Florida Supreme Court Justice Jamie Grosshans discussed her upbringing in Mississippi, civility in the public square and her judicial philosophy during a wide-ranging interview at Santa Fe College Thursday night.
Grosshans’ comments came in her first public media interview since Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed her to the court in 2020. Her appearance was the latest in the Newsmaker Interview Series, presented by Mainstreet Daily News, after Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe kicked off the series last month.
Grosshans told the audience that writing court opinions never figured into her childhood dreams. She had plans as a kid to train dolphins, and those plans matured into working for the civil service as a U.S. ambassador. But Grosshans said a combination of timing, friendships and a judge’s call to action pushed her toward the judiciary.
“We were at an event and I was hearing this judge speak and he encouraged everyone to think about a life of this type of public service,” she said.
Grosshans first served as an Orange County Court judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida before Gov. Rick Scott appointed her to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in 2018. Two years later, she joined the state Supreme Court.
The role, she said, fails to live up to the glamor of television. Instead, it involves humility to accept a limited role within the system—a key part of her judicial philosophy.
“I think that that is vitally important—that a judge is not the elected legislature,” Grosshans said. “We're not here to fill holes that an elected body is supposed to do.”
Grosshans said the temptation to act as a lawmaker can be strong. She felt it most as a county judge, where most rulings are low profile, but she said that experience prepared her for the Supreme Court.
Grosshans acknowledged that other judges interpret their role differently, but she said civility overcomes differences in philosophy on the Florida Supreme Court.
“There's never, ever a moment where civil conversation is not appreciated,” she said.
As the newest member of the court, Grosshans said the six other justices lead by example—not just for her but the entire Florida Bar and its 100,000+ members.
She said Americans could learn from the judiciary and pointed to the relationship between U.S. Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, who disagreed on many decisions but maintained a strong friendship.
“I don't know where we lost the ability to disagree,” Grosshans said. “We lost the ability to have this exchange of ideas.”
Grosshans acknowledged that the judicial system is affected by politics, but she said most Florida judges, regardless of their ideological perspective, do a great job after going through the appointment process.
“While, yes, it's an inherently political process, I think sometimes we get an unfair rap,” Grosshans said.
A Mississippi native, Grosshans grew up in Brookhaven, a small town within a small county that had all the essentials—Walmart, Cracker Barrel and two sets of grandparents.
Grosshans said she is one of many great adoption stories and loved growing up in Brookhaven. She said her parents instilled in her a strong faith, but she separates it from her work on the bench.
Grosshans moved to Florida after earning her law degree at the University of Mississippi. She now calls Winter Garden home, where she lives with her husband and three children. She said being a parent—such as struggling through 5th grade math homework—keeps her grounded.
“As a parent, I'm always learning, I'm always growing, and your kids are always keeping you humble,” Grosshans said.
She credited many women who endured hardships and paved the way for her to become the state’s fifth woman on the Supreme Court. She said being the only woman on the court adds pressure, but she praised her colleagues for treating her the same as any male judge who might have been appointed.
“And I think that's just a spectacular testament to all the women that fought so hard to have that level of equality on the court,” Grosshans said.