Daughter of Cuban exiles, Barbara Lagoa grew up in Florida; could she be next Supreme Court justice?

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Newly sworn-in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stands behind Barbara Lagoa as she speaks after he named her to the Florida Supreme Court on January 9, 2019 in Miami, Florida. - Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America/TNS

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Barbara Lagoa, the bilingual daughter of Cuban exiles who grew up in Hialeah and became the first Hispanic woman justice on the Florida Supreme Court, has been described by Gov. Ron DeSantis as a “top-flight legal talent.”

President Donald Trump apparently feels the same way, as Lagoa is reportedly on a short list of potential candidates to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court, following Ginsburg’s death Fridat at age 87.

At 52, Lagoa would be the youngest member of the court, if selected and appointed, effectively representing a conservative voice on the court potentially for decades.

As Trump departed the White House on Saturday for a campaign rally in North Carolina, he had this to say about Lagoa: “She is an extraordinary person. I’ve heard at length about her. She’s Hispanic and she’s highly respected.”

From a political context, Florida is Trump’s biggest battleground state and Cubans make an important voting bloc for the president. A nomination could make inroads with a broader bloc of Hispanic voters.

Lagoa joins Amy Coney Barrett, 49, and Allison Jones Rushing, 38, as potential nominees.

DeSantis appointed Lagoa to the state Supreme Court on Jan. 9, 2019, making the Cuban American the first Hispanic woman on the state’s high court, before Trump appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which covers Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

“She had proven herself over and over again,” DeSantis said at Lagoa’s Florida Supreme Court investiture ceremony in May of 2019. “This is someone who was a top-flight legal talent.”

Earlier this summer, she was embroiled in controversy as she and another federal appeals judge and former Florida Supreme Court Justice, Robert Luck, refused to recuse themselves from an appeals case they ruled on as Florida Supreme Court Justices regarding voting rights for people convicted of felonies who served their sentences but still needed to pay fines or fees.

The issue of voting rights for these approximately 775,000 Floridians has been hotly disputed since before the 2018 gubernatorial election, with DeSantis opposing the restoration of those rights before they pay those fines and fees.

Earlier this month, Lagoa and Luck both ruled with the conservative majority of the appeals court against the restoration of those voting rights.

It’s not the first case Lagoa was involved in that was in the media spotlight. She also served on the legal team trying to stop Elian Gonzalez’ return to Cuba. The child became part of an international custody dispute.

In 2006, Lagoa, who was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Florida Southern District, was tapped by Gov. Jeb Bush for a seat on the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeal.

Because of her appointment to 11th Circuit, Lagoa has already been vetted. She won bipartisan support in the Senate — with 80 senators voting to confirm her and 15 voting against her appointment.

Lagoa went to Florida International University for her undergraduate work and, after graduating in 1989, headed to Columbia Law School, where she earned her law degree in 1992. While attending law school, she served as the associate editor for the prestigious Columbia Law Review.

She is married to Miami attorney Paul C. Huck Jr., whose father, Paul Huck, is a senior judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Lagoa and Huck have three daughters together.

As a civil attorney at the firm of Greenberg Traurig, she worked on commercial litigation, particularly the areas of employment discrimination, business torts, securities litigation, construction litigation and insurance coverage disputes, according to her Florida Supreme Court profile.

Lagoa sits on the board of directors for the YWCA of Greater Miami and Dade County, the Film Society of Miami, Kristi House and FIU Alumni Association, and is a member of other local civic organizations.

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©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)