TALLAHASSEE (AP) – Justice Peggy Quince, who attended segregated schools in her native Virginia, will be the first black woman to lead the Florida Supreme Court or any branch of state government.
Quince, 60, also will be the second African-American and third woman to serve as chief justice when she begins her two-year term July 1. Her six colleagues unanimously elected Quince on March 14 to succeed Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis, who will remain on the court. “She is the epitome of a great colleague and outstanding jurist,” said Justice Barbara Pariente, the only other woman now serving on the court. “And now she will make history by becoming the first African-American woman to lead the third branch of government.”
The chief justice also oversees the entire state court system.
Quince did not immediately respond to an interview request made through the high court's public information office. But she issued a statement thanking her colleagues and saying she looks forward to serving the people in her new capacity.
The high court stuck with its rarely violated tradition of rotating the position to the most senior justice who has not yet held it. Lewis was elected in the same manner two years ago to succeed Pariente.
Quince is only the third black of either gender to serve on the high court.
She was jointly appointed on Dec. 8, 1998 by outgoing Gov. Lawton Chiles and incoming Gov. Jeb Bush. Chiles died in office just four days later with less than a month left in his term.
Joseph Hatchett was Florida's first black justice in 1975, but he left the court four years later when he was appointed as a federal appellate judge.
Leander Shaw, now retired from the Supreme Court, was the first black elected as chief justice in 1990-92. Rosemary Barkett, now a federal appellate judge in Atlanta, was the first woman to hold the position in 1992-94. Pariente was the second in 2004-06.
The daughter of a longshoreman, Quince grew up in Norfolk, Va., before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against segregated schools in its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.
She graduated from Howard University in 1970 and earned a law degree from the Catholic University of America in 1975.
After briefly working in Washington, D.C., she went into private practice in Bradenton. She joined the state attorney general's office in 1980, rising to bureau chief in Tampa and spending three years exclusively handling death sentence cases.
Quince then was appointed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in 1993, the first black woman to serve on any of Florida's appellate courts.
Photo: Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince