Barbara Lagoa, 52, is the daughter of Cuban exiles, a Columbia Law School graduate, long-time judge on one of Florida’s five courts of appeal, the first Hispanic woman on the Florida Supreme Court, and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit since 2019. She would be the first Cuban on the court, as well as the first Southerner since Clarence Thomas in 1991. She’d also be the first justice since David Souter with state court experience.

With most of her career spent in state court, Lagoa is the bright and feisty dark-horse from a must-win swing state of Florida. If nominated, she would put Democrats on the defensive, forcing them to tear down a Hispanic woman — one overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate a year ago — at a time when the Latino vote might be critical to the election. True, she is basically a blank slate, but she would be the more palatable choice for Democrats and bring some much-needed diversity of experience to the court.

While Lagoa seems to be the best choice in terms of politics, Barrett is likely the best in terms of jurisprudence. Lagoa is more likely to get through the confirmation process without causing any Democrats to light themselves (or others) on fire. By contrast, Barrett — who might be as judicially conservative as Ginsburg was liberal — would cause progressives in the Senate to lose their collective minds.