Justin Sayfie, a lawyer, government relations consultant, and digital entrepreneur, says he has known Judge Barbara Lagoa, one of President Donald Trump’s finalists for the Supreme Court, for 20 years. He joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about their friendship, Lagoa’s career, and her potential as a Supreme Court justice.
We also cover these stories:
- Trump says he will sign an executive order to protect babies born alive after a botched abortion.
- The president announces new sanctions on Cuba.
- Kentucky’s attorney general announces a grand jury’s charges in the mistaken police killing of Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician who was shot and killed in her home when three officers broke in with a search warrant.
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Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” by Justin Sayfie. He’s a government relations consultant, digital entrepreneur, and attorney who has known Judge Barbara Lagoa for 20 years. He’s also the publisher of the Sayfie Review.
Judge Lagoa is a Cuban-American and federal appellate judge who is the front-runner to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Mr. Sayfie, it’s great to have you with us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
Justin Sayfie: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
Del Guidice: Well, thank you so much for making time to be with us today. Can you just start off by telling us about how you know Judge Lagoa?
Sayfie: Sure. I had worked in Florida for Gov. Jeb Bush as a spokesman and policy adviser, and when I left the state capital and returned to the Miami area I became involved once again in the Federalist Society. I had started the chapter of the Federalist Society at the University of Miami Law School when I was in law school there.
I got involved in the Federalist Society chapter. I was on a judicial nominating commission that nominated state court judges. As a result of those two activities, I met Judge Lagoa and her husband, Paul Huck. They became good friends of mine.
We were ideological soulmates in many ways, not just with our interest in the Federalist Society, but in other areas as well. That’s how our friendship started, and that was in 2001.
Del Guidice: We’ll be talking more about her personal and professional accomplishments, but as a friend, first of all, Judge Lagoa, what would you like to say about her in that capacity?
Sayfie: Sure. Well, the thing that’s to me remarkable about her is that she’s the same person now that she was when I first met her 19 years ago in the sense that it can be a challenge sometimes for people who become judges to retain their sense of humility, especially when you’ve been elevated like Judge Lagoa has.
She’s been appointed by two governors. Gov. Jeb Bush put her on the state appellate court and Gov. Ron DeSantis, our current governor in Florida, put her on the state Supreme Court. And then President [Donald] Trump nominated her and she was confirmed by the Senate to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, federal court.
So despite all of the judicial elevations and powerful positions she’s been in, she’s still the same person, has the same amount of humility that she had when I first met her. That’s one of the things I admire most about her.
Del Guidice: Judge Lagoa was the first Latina to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. What else would you like to share about her career and how she’s broken glass ceilings?
Sayfie: Right. Well, you mentioned a big one there; first Latina to serve on the Florida Supreme Court, long overdue, and she’s well-qualified for that position, and was the first act of the newly inaugurated Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida. The first official act he took was to announce he was appointing her to the Supreme Court.
She has distinguished herself in her career as a jurist, both on the state appellate court, before she was on the state Supreme Court.
Her writing has been clear. She has an intellectual force that she writes with. I think that she’s got a career of writing hundreds and hundreds of opinions, so her judicial philosophy is well-known, and it’s one that I respect and admire.
Del Guidice: You mentioned her hundreds and hundreds of opinions that she’s written. Are there any specific cases Judge Lagoa has been part of that have particularly stood out to you?
Sayfie: I am not a follower of the appellate courts, and so I don’t practice that kind of law. I think that a lot of the cases she dealt with when she was on the state court were different types of state litigation matters.
One case that’s a recent vintage that was recently decided when she was on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals was interpreting a newly passed constitutional amendment in the state of Florida, which was known in Florida as Amendment 4, that the voters passed in 2018 statewide. It allows for convicted felons to regain their right to vote if they complete all terms of their sentence. This was challenged by certain activists and activist groups.
This decision was just recently decided—Judge Lagoa with the majority opinion—it was in support of the majority opinion that found that that requirement, that the felons complete all terms of their sentence, including restitution and fines before they’re allowed to vote, was constitutional.
To me, I think that’s probably a most recent case and the one that’s received a fair amount of publicity that talks to and speaks to the type of judge that she is and her judicial philosophy.
Del Guidice: Are there any ways Judge Lagoa has mentored young people, especially young women, that you would like to highlight?
Sayfie: I don’t know for certain, but I do know that she has had a number of clerks in her position on the state appellate courts. I know that she’s had clerks as well on the Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
I think that that’s one of the ways that she has been able to mentor young people, young lawyers, provide them with guidance and obviously an incredible opportunity to work that closely with a judge. I don’t know any of her clerks personally, but I know it’s something that she definitely values and has definitely done over her career.
Del Guidice: You had mentioned the judge’s humility and all the different opportunities she’s had, that she has just retained this humility and sense of perspective. Is there anything else about her in more of that personal light as a friend, as a mom, other things you’ve observed that can more illustrate to others herself as a person?
Sayfie: Sure, absolutely. I would say two things. One is the fact that she’s the daughter of immigrants. And not just the daughter of immigrants, but her parents fled a communist dictatorship in Cuba and came to the United States.
Barbara was born, and for those of us who were from South Florida, she was born in a very working-class neighborhood, Hialeah, Florida, to those who are familiar with the Miami-Dade County area.
From those humble beginnings, she went to the public university there, Florida International University in Miami, and then amassed a stellar academic career and was admitted to Columbia Law School in New York City.
I think that that is a classic American story. The daughter of immigrants [that fled] dictatorship. And their daughter not only gets admitted to an Ivy League law school, but then is now being considered for a position on the United States Supreme Court.
I think that that’s one thing that people who want to know more about her really would be well-served to understand is that her upbringing in her family and that exile experience that her parents had was very formative of her early years and of her appreciation for the rule of law, her appreciation for the American form of government, the appreciation for the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans, and the importance of separation of powers, importance that each branch of government only exercise power within their respective branch—especially the judicial branch, which we know from the framers, they put it as Article III behind the Congress and behind the president as the least of the three branches and the weakest branch of government. I think that’s one thing.
The second thing on a personal level is her family.
I happen to have identical twin boys, and she and her husband had fraternal twin daughters. So she and I over the years would have a parents of twins support group, and we would enjoy all the stories that parents tell each other about all the challenges and the rewards of being parents of twins.
She’s really remarkable in the sense that she’s had a very successful professional career by any standard, by any measure, but she’s also been an exceptional mother and an exceptional woman in her family. That’s another thing that’s really, truly remarkable to me as a friend of hers.
Del Guidice: Thanks for sharing that.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away on Friday, and since that time so much has happened in the media. What is your perspective on how the media has covered not only Judge Lagoa but also the whole situation at the Supreme Court so far?
Sayfie: Yeah. Look, Justice Ginsburg, as President Trump said, led an amazing life and a remarkable life. Again, that’s a true, unique American story as well. I think that the kudos and the honors and the accolades for Justice Ginsburg are well-deserved and that’s entirely appropriate, in my view.
I think that when it comes to looking at Judge Lagoa and the other very well-qualified candidates, I think that so far, the coverage has been pretty fair, relatively speaking. I mean, I’m kind of grading on a curve a little bit because I don’t have high marks for how the news media has covered this president, but I think if I grade on a curve they’ve been relatively fair.
Now, once President Trump makes his nomination, I would say all bets are off. I think the long knives will come out and they’re already being sharpened, I imagine, right now.
We saw what happened to Justice [Brett] Kavanaugh when he went through the confirmation process, and I expect that this could be as brutal, if not more brutal than that one, unfortunately. I don’t want to see that happen. I hope it doesn’t happen, but it seems like that’s a possibility.
Del Guidice: As we wrap up, is there anything else about Judge Lagoa that you would like to share that we haven’t yet talked about?
Sayfie: I think it’s also important to note that she’s a woman of faith. Her daughters attend an all-girls Catholic school. I know that her faith is very important to her in her life. She’s just someone who I’m proud and honored to see the president consider her for this position.
… Whether she ascends to the high court or not, or she stays on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, … I take comfort in the fact that someone with her moral character, someone with her judicial philosophy, of judicial restraint and respect for the limited role of the judiciary is on the bench and is not interested in asserting her own personal opinions into her decision-making as a judge. That’s something that is important for protection of our democracy.
Whether she continues to serve on the 11th Circuit or on the Supreme Court, I think that all Americans would be proud that someone of her background and of her caliber is serving all of us in this important position.
Del Guidice: Justin, thank you so much for joining us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.” We appreciate having you.
Sayfie: Thanks for having me.