Cuban-American judge from Florida on Trump high court list

Cuban-American judge from Florida on Trump high court list

Monday, September 21, 2020

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MIAMI, Florida (AP) — A daughter of Cuban exiles who has had a swift rise as a lawyer and judge is on President Donald Trump's short list to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the US Supreme Court.

The president said today that he does not personally know Barbara Lagoa, 52, but praised her as "terrific". Barely veiled was the fact that, as a Cuban-American from South Florida's city of Hialeah, her selection could benefit Trump in the November 3 election, when Florida could be the ultimate kingmaker. Lagoa grew up in a heavily Hispanic suburb of Miami.

"She's excellent. She's Hispanic. She's a terrific woman from everything I know. I don't know her. Florida. We love Florida. So she's got a lot of things — very smart," Trump said in a call-in interview with 'Fox and Friends'.

Asked whether politics would play a role in the decision, Trump responded: "I try not to say so. I think probably automatically it is. Even if you're not wanting to do that it becomes a little automatic."

After the death Friday of 87-year-old Ginsburg, a liberal icon, Trump said he would name a woman as a replacement — possibly by Saturday. Trump said today he has about five top prospects.

Lagoa, an only child, once joked that after graduating from Florida International University leaving her close-knit Cuban-American family for New York to obtain her law degree from Columbia University "was not a popular decision in my house".

When she was picked for the Florida Supreme Court, Lagoa said her father gave up his dream of becoming a lawyer and that both her parents worked long hours while she rode her bike and roller skated down the streets of Hialeah where she was cared for by her grandmother.

"My parents sacrificed to send me to Catholic school, further instilling in me an abiding faith in God that has grounded me and sustained me through the highs and lows of life," she said.

Lagoa is currently a judge on the Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Trump appointed her to that post in 2019 and the Senate confirmed her on an 80-15 vote.

Before that, for less than a year she was a justice on the Florida Supreme Court after more than a decade on a Miami-based state appeals court where she wrote some 360 opinions. She was the first woman of Hispanic heritage on the state Supreme Court.

She's been in private practice, including work for Florida family members on the 2000 saga of the custody of Cuban rafter child Elian Gonzalez, which remains a hot-button issue in Miami to this day. Lagoa was also a federal prosecutor in Miami for a time.

A Lagoa nomination may impact voters in the suburb of Hialeah, a popular site for campaigns seeking to persuade undecided voters.

Last weekend, groups for Biden and Trump rallied Cuban-Americans with drive-by events waving flags in this bastion of working-class voters where precinct-level analysis suggest Trump was not as dominant among Cubans in 2016.

"It is extremely exciting to have a fellow first-generation Cuban-American from Hialeah," said Annette Collazo, also a daughter of exiles who is running as a Democrat for state representative in a district that includes Hialeah. "I temper that excitement with the reality. While diversity in background and views are extremely important, we also need diversity in judicial approach."

At 52, Lagoa would become the youngest member of the US Supreme Court if nominated and confirmed.

The process remains fluid, but as of this afternoon, conversations in the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office were increasingly focused on two finalists: Amy Coney Barrett and Lagoa.

Coney Barrett emerged as the clear preference of a growing number of senators, largely because she is the much better-known of the two, having been through a grueling Senate confirmation process already and been embraced by the conservative base. Predictability is considered a crucial factor for the president and vulnerable senators so close to the election. Lagoa remains in the running, however, and those who know her well expect Trump to warm to her if and when they meet in person.

Lagoa is is also a member of the Federalist Society, a legal organisation popular with conservatives. She is married to Miami lawyer Paul Huck Jr, whose father, Paul Huck Sr, is a senior judge on the Miami-based federal court. They have three daughters.

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