Meet the 'Conservative Cuban Version of Sonia Sotomayor' That Could Be Trump's Supreme Court Nominee

Meet the 'Conservative Cuban Version of Sonia Sotomayor' That Could Be Trump's Supreme Court Nominee
Image:Wilfredo Lee (AP)

Donald Trump appears committed to a girl power Supreme Court Justice pick to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday. But while conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett is receiving plenty of attention as a potential frontrunner, she might have some competition. Meet Barbara Lagoa, the Cuban-American judge who has Florida politicians clamoring for her ascent.

Lagoa was born in Miami, Florida in 1967 to Cuban immigrants who fled after Fidel Castro’s takeover. She attended undergrad at Florida International University and studied law at Columbia University, where she was an Associate Editor of the prestigious Columbia Law Review. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush appointed her to the Third District Court of Appeals in 2006, and in 2019 she was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by current governor Ron DeSantis. In November, she was confirmed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, receiving large bipartisan support from the Senate.

Following a campaign rally on Sunday, Trump said, “[Lagoa] is an extraordinary person. I’ve heard at length about her. She’s Hispanic and she’d highly respected.”

And it’s the “Hispanic” credentials that her proponents hope to use to their advantage: Joe Biden is struggling to attract broad Latinx support, notably in the battleground state of Florida. Republicans are envisioning that Trump nominating Lagoa will help boost Trump’s Latinx support just enough to make a difference and solidify the state’s 29 electoral votes.

From Politico (emphasis ours):

“If the president picks Barbara Lagoa, they will be dancing salsa with joy in Hialeah well past November,” said [Rep. Matt] Gaetz, referring to Lagoa’s home town, a blue-collar majority Cuban-American city that borders Miami and leans Republican.
“We know Democrats are going to vote against her, even though they voted overwhelmingly to confirm her to the federal bench before,” the Republican [advisor to Trump] said. “Democrats always play the race card. Well, we can as well. What are they going to tell Hispanic voters in Florida about rejecting a Latina for the high court?”
“It’s a play for women, Hispanics and most importantly, Florida’s 29 Electoral votes,” [Democratic pollster and consultant Fernand] Amandi said. “Barbara Lagoa is the conservative Cuban version of Sonia Sotomayor.
Jesse Panuccio, a longtime Florida attorney and former third-ranking official in the Department of Justice in the Trump administration, echoed Amandi and said the pick of Lagoa could “energize” an important slice of the Florida electorate.
“I think choosing Barbara Lagoa as a Supreme Court nominee would be the best thing the president could do politically in this state,” said Panuccio[…].

Republicans also hope to push Lagoa as a “blank slate” on abortion, believing that that could help ease her confirmation proceedings; contrast this to Barrett, who has a much more pronounced history of anti-abortion writings and statements. But Lagoa’s assurance to regard Roe v Wade as precedent holds little water with regards to potential rulings regarding abortion access and funding, especially considering her conservative politics. The Sun-Sentinel reports that she is a member of the Federalist Society, the shadowy conservative organization that included a slew of other conservative Supreme Court Justices—from Brett Kavanaugh, to Clarence Thomas, to the late Justice Antonin Scalia). The idea that Democrats can rely on her as an empty vessel on abortion is laughable.

Besides, Lagoa has already earned the ire by Senate Democrats due to her refusal to recuse herself in a federal appeals court decision regarding a Florida law passed by a Republican-controlled state legislature which forced formerly incarcerated people to pay fees before being eligible to vote. The law was passed after an overwhelming majority of Floridians voted in favor of a constitutional amendment ending the state’s lifetime ban on voting access for formerly incarcerated people. Lagoa previously sat on the very same Florida Supreme Court that decided how the new amendment should be interpreted in the first place. With Lagoa’s help, the appeals court upheld the regressive law in a 6-4 ruling. The conflict of interest was glaring, but Lagoa didn’t care.

Still, Lagoa has some stiff competition, namely in the form of Barrett, a beloved figure among anti-abortion organizations who have tirelessly supported the Trump administration. Barrett has the clout, while Lagoa is relatively unknown outside of Florida politics. So who will Trump choose? Barrett, a Catholic conservative who is on the record as wanting to bludgeon abortion access, or Lagoa, a Latina Catholic conservative who very likely wants to bludgeon it as well? The choices are equally bleak, and Democrats have no choice but to try and block either appointment tooth and nail.

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