One is a close friend of John Thrasher, the immediate past Florida House speaker and a Republican ally of Gov. Jeb Bush. Another pals around with state Rep. Lois Frankel, the new Democratic House leader and one of those pushing to continue to recount ballots in the disputed presidential election. One grew up in a public housing project, while another one posted a grisly execution photograph on the court's Web site.
Meet the men and women of the Florida Supreme Court, who next week will help decide whether Al Gore or George W. Bush will be the next president of the United States.
Six were appointed by Democratic governors, and the seventh was appointed jointly by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles and then-Gov.-elect Jeb Bush. Six are registered Democrats. The seventh is a registered independent, but several people who know him say that he was once a Republican. Two are African American, including one of the two women on the court.
It is difficult to predict how a court will rule, and this court is filled with relative newcomers who do not have long track records to go by. But Republicans, who have feuded with the court in the past, are worried enough about what it could do next week that they are preparing a legal argument that the Legislature, not the court, has the right to ultimately decide the fate of this election.
"I'm not offended by people's party registration, but I've been concerned about a court that I think has been far too activist and far too willing to substitute its judgment and political bias for the Legislature's," said Florida House Speaker-designate Tom Feeney.
He is not the only one with that view. Bush and Republican lawmakers have been engaged in a rhetorical and political battle with the court for the past year and a half. The court struck down the Legislature's effort to speed up executions in April. More recently, the court struck down a pro-death penalty constitutional amendment approved by voters because it said the ballot language was confusing. The court has also frustrated lawmakers' attempts to restrict abortion.
But former members of the court, Florida attorneys and academics alike say that the seven justices will calmly decide the presidential election cases that come before them in an impartial and speedy way.
"I have the utmost faith in the Supreme Court," said Jim Clayton, a Republican from Deland who has argued an election case before the justices. "Their intellectual integrity is unimpeachable. I've been there."
While the consensus among legal sources is that the justices will decide the election cases on their merits, there are those who view the court as more "results-oriented" than intellectually innovative.
The court is considered less partisan than others around the country in part because of a judicial nominating process designed to minimize the role of partisan politics. But there are complaints that the process, which gives the Florida bar a role in the selections, produces judges who are mainly trial attorneys and not necessarily equipped to handle appellate work.
Richard McFarlain, who was the general counsel for the state Republican Party until 1999, said the court's primary hallmark has been one of judicial independence. "They are unpredictable--I think this court is about as independent as you are going to get a court," he said. "I can't see them making any crass political decision."
Nevertheless, attorneys and law professors privately note that this bench, like most others in the country, is not free of ideological coloration.
Justices Barbara J. Pariente, Leander J. Shaw Jr. and Harry Lee Anstead are considered discernibly more liberal than the rest.
Pariente, 51, is a Democrat from West Palm Beach who was appointed by Chiles in 1997. She, like four other of the justices, is a former trial lawyer. Her candidacy was heavily supported by a trial bar that often backs Democratic causes. She often represented the downtrodden--wronged farmers and a 9-year-old girl who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident.
On the bench, she is known to jump in often with sharply worded questions. Outside the court, she is close friends with Frankel, a Democrat who was questioning the disputed Palm Beach County results as early as Election Day. Frankel said the two met in college during the 1960s. "Barbara was a real student, as opposed to me, who was a real protester," Frankel said. But she said they have never discussed any cases and have had no contact at all since before the presidential election.
"When we see each other as friends, we are very, very disciplined," said Frankel.
Shaw, 70, is the court's elder with 17 years experience. An African American and a Democrat who was appointed by former Florida Gov. Bob Graham, he is seen as someone who protects individual rights over the interests of the government. He is the son of academics; he served in the Korean War as an artillery officer and is one of three former military men on the bench. Justice Major B. Harding and Justice R. Fred Lewis, both former Army lawyers, are the others.
Before he was appointed to the court by Graham in 1983, he served both as a public defender and as a prosecutor. He is known to keep a well-worn book from his childhood days in a glass case by his desk titled "The Perfect Gentleman."
About a third of the court's time is consumed by death penalty cases, and Shaw is seen as a friend by capital punishment opponents. To back up a dissenting opinion, he recently posted on the court's Web site a photograph of an executed inmate's bloody nose to bolster his argument that Florida's electric chair constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
He angered conservatives by authoring the main opinion in a controversial abortion case that broadly construed the right to privacy in the state constitution to include abortion. Earlier this year, he published a separate, signed opinion assailing the anti-affirmative action initiative that California activist Ward Connerly tried to put on the Florida ballot.
Anstead, 63, is a Democrat appointed by Chiles in 1994. He grew up in a Jacksonville housing project, the youngest of six children raised by a single mother. A former trial lawyer, he helped found and direct the Urban League of Miami Beach, and often sides with Pariente.
Chief Justice Charles T. Wells and Harding are considered the most conservative of the justices on the death penalty. They are also quite political, and have often met with legislators to discuss the court's budget.
Earlier this year, they were involved in a controversy over a death penalty law passed by the Legislature. They were asked to recuse themselves after it was reported that Harding personally handed then-House Speaker Thrasher a draft version of the bill that seemed to split the difference between what the Legislature wanted and what a court panel was recommending.
The law's Republican sponsor initially said both men had substantial input in the drafting of the legislation, even though it was clear that the court would later sit in judgment of it. Later, amid controversy, the sponsor said he had been mistaken, and the court subsequently overturned the new death penalty law, with Wells and Harding authoring the opinion.
A spokeswoman for Thrasher said at the time that the House speaker and Harding were good friends.
Harding, 65, is a registered independent and longtime trial judge. But several people, including McFarlain, the former general counsel to the state GOP, said that Harding was once a registered Republican. He was appointed by Chiles in 1991.
Wells, 61, is a Democrat and a former trial lawyer. He was appointed by Chiles in 1994 and became chief justice, a rotating position, this year.
In next week's deliberations, "Wells would take a lead," said a leading legal academic in the state. "Anstead is the intellectual on the court. He will be the one who analyzes."
The newest justices are harder to read. Lewis, 52, is a former college basketball player appointed by Chiles in 1999. He hails from generations of West Virginia coal miners and keeps a jar of coal dust on his desk to remind him of his past. He has a background of suing corporations and handling medical malpractice cases.
Peggy A. Quince, 52, is a Democrat and the first black woman appointed to the court. As an assistant attorney general, she handled numerous death penalty cases before being jointly appointed by Chiles and Bush in 1998.
Staff writer Charles Lane contributed to this report.
The Florida Supreme Court Justices
Chief Justice Charles T. Wells, 61
Appointed by Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1994. Graduated from University of Florida Law School in 1964. In private practice before being appointed to the court. Native of Orlando.
Justice Leander J. Shaw Jr., 70
Appointed by Gov. Bob Graham in 1983. Graduated from Howard University Law School in 1957. Served on 1st District Court of Appeal. Native of Salem, Va.
Justice Major B. Harding, 65
Appointed by Chiles in 1991. Graduated from Wake Forest University Law School in 1959. Served on 4th Circuit Court in Jacksonville. Native of Charlotte, N.C.
Justice Harry Lee Anstead, 63
Appointed by Chiles in 1994. Graduated from University of Florida Law School. Served on 4th District Court of Appeal. Native of Jacksonville, Fla.
Justice Barbara J. Pariente, 51
Appointed by Chiles in 1997. Graduated from George Washington University Law School. Served on 4th District Court of Appeal. Native of New York.
Justice R. Fred Lewis, 52
Appointed by Chiles in 1998. Graduated from University of Miami Law School in 1972. In private practice before being appointed to the court. Native of Beckley, W.Va.
Justice Peggy A. Quince, 52
Appointed by Chiles and Gov.-elect Jeb Bush in 1998. Graduated from Catholic University Law School in 1975. Served on 2nd District Court of Appeal. Native of Norfolk.