Florida’s rightwing Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, has appointed a judge who was previously ousted over a controversial ruling where he denied a teenager an abortion, citing her school grades.
DeSantis appointed Jared Smith to the newly established sixth district court of appeal, an appointment which will begin on 1 January 2023. Smith previously served as a judge on the Hillsborough county court until he was ousted in August after his decision on the abortion-related case.
In January, Smith had ruled that a 17-year-old teenager was unfit to obtain an abortion as he questioned her “overall intelligence”. According to Florida law, both parental notification and consent is required in order for a minor to receive an abortion. In the teenager’s case, she had asked the court to waive the requirement.
Under Florida’s law, the requirement can be waived if the court finds “by clear and convincing evidence, that the minor is sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy”.
However, in Smith’s ruling, he cited the teenager’s grades as a factor in his decision that denied her the abortion.
“Addressing her ‘overall intelligence’ … the court found her intelligence to be less than average because ‘[w]hile she claimed that her grades were ‘Bs’ during her testimony, her GPA is currently 2.0. Clearly, a ‘B’ average would not equate to a 2.0 GPA,’” he said in his ruling.
Smith also went on to question the teenager’s “emotional development and stability, and ability to accept responsibility”.
“This court has long recognized that the trial court’s findings … may support a determination that the minor did not prove that she was sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy,” he wrote.
An appeals court eventually overturned the ruling. In August, Smith lost his re-election bid against Nancy Jacobs, a Tampa criminal defense and family law attorney. According to the Hill, Jacobs received approximately 51.9% of the votes, surpassing Smith by about 3.7 percentage points.
DeSantis is a rising star in the Republican party, especially after his strong performance in November’s midterm elections, which was in stark contrast to the Republican party showing overall. He has emerged as a powerful rival to Donald Trump and is widely expected to challenge the former US president in the Republican 2024 presidential nomination race.
DeSantis’s appointment of Smith comes a week after the Florida supreme court tossed out challenges to the eligibility of six appeals court candidates, including Smith. The challenges argued that the candidates live outside the jurisdiction of the fifth and six district court of appeals, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
The state’s supreme court ruled that the residency requirement would only apply once the judges are appointed, not during the nomination process of the candidates.