TALLAHASSEE -Leander Shaw, who served as the Florida Supreme Court’s first African-American chief justice, died early Monday after a lengthy illness, the court announced.
He was 85.
Shaw was appointed to the court in 1983 by then-Gov. Bob Graham, and he retired in 2003, the court said in a news release. He served as chief justice from 1990 to 1992.
Shaw was born in Salem, Virginia. He served in the Korean War before earning his law degree from Howard University in 1957. He began to practice law in Florida at a time when the state was still segregated.
When he took the Florida bar exam in 1960, he couldn’t stay in the same hotel where it was administered because it was for whites only. He was one of about 25 black lawyers in the state at the time.
Shaw was appointed to the court following scandals in the 1970s that led to changes in how justices were selected. Justices had been elected until an investigation into allegations that some were improperly influenced by people who donated to their campaigns.
“Leander Shaw was one of a handful of judges who helped restore the public’s faith in the Supreme Court and who transformed it into one of the most respected courts in the nation,” current Chief Justice Jorge Labarga said in the news release. “This was no small feat after the scandals of the 1970s.”
Shaw was considered one of the most liberal justices during his time on the court, and upset conservatives when he wrote an opinion in 1989 that affirmed a woman’s right to have an abortion. An effort by abortion opponents to vote him off the bench the following year failed, with 72 percent of voters in favor of him remaining on the court.