The campaign to defend three targeted Florida Supreme Court justices has expanded dramatically and is expected to spend $5.5 million, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Voters will decide Tuesday in a retention (yes-or-no) election whether to keep or unseat the judges.
The justices’ campaigns have raised about $1.5 million, and money from the state’s legal community and other backers of the justices totals $4 million, the article said. Meanwhile Americans for Prosperity spent about $155,000 in targeting the justices, and a grassroots group, Restore Justice 2012, has taken in less than $70,000.
“When the Republican Party of Florida launched its ‘grass roots’ offensive against the three justices of the Florida Supreme Court, it unleashed a sleeping giant,” the article said. To learn more about the anti-retention campaign, based on rulings in a few controversial cases, see Gavel Grab.
Meanwhile former state legislator Barry Richard told The Florida Current that he’s putting together a proposal to remove judges from politics completely.
In the closing days of other high-profile judicial election races, these headlines appeared:
News & Observer, “PPP poll shows leads for Ervin, Forest, McCrory.” Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV was shown with a 39-35 percent lead over incumbent North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby.
Associated Press, “[Oregon] Supreme Court race takes an edgier tone.”
Detroit News, ”No clear leader in [Michigan] High Court race despite spending.”
Alabama’s13.com, “Parties spar over donations in Ala. Supreme Court Justice race.”
Elizabeth Price Foley, a Florida law professor commissioned by the conservative Federalist Society to review nine state Supreme Court rulings in controversial cases since 2000, reached the following conclusion:
“[T]here does not appear to be a pattern of unprincipled decision-making by any of the justices of the Florida Supreme Court. There are disagreements, true. But disagreements do not suggest that those with whom you disagree are unprincipled.”
The Florida Republican Party and conservative groups have targeted three justices who face retention (yes-or-no) election this year, accusing the trio of judicial activism. According to a Tampa Bay Times article, however, the author of the Federalist Society report parted ways with those critics when she talked to reporters in a conference call:
“Opponents who want to accuse them of judicial activism, she said, are ‘going to have a hard time making that label stick.”’
Former chief justice of the Arizona supreme court, Ruth McGregor, and former chief justice of the Indiana supreme court, Randall Shepard have called the increased politicization of judicial retention elections “troubling.”
Writing for The National Law Journal, the retired jurists denounced efforts underway to oust judges in retention elections in Florida and Iowa:
“In recent months, political party leaders have joined the assault in these states, breaking with local tradition and calling for removal of state supreme court justices. These party leaders, with their partisan declarations in a nonpartisan realm, threaten to utterly destroy the protective shield… If judges cannot make hard calls based on the law, without looking over their shoulder for threats of retaliation, it will become harder for our justice system to fulfill its traditional responsibility to uphold the Constitution and protect Americans’ rights.” Read more
As opposing sides delivered punches in a Florida Supreme Court retention campaign, a group that has targeted three justices released a critical new web video, while groups representing police and firefighters blasted increasing politicization of the courts.
In the two-minute video, Restore Justice 2012 ridiculed a ruling by the state Supreme Court in a 2003 murder case that also drew fire recently from the Republican Party of Florida, according to a Miami Herald report. The newspaper pointed out that when the three justices were up for retention (yes-or-no) election in 2006, the GOP did not oppose keeping them on the bench, as the GOP is now doing.
Meanwhile representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police and Florida Professional Fire Fighters said the Republican Party push to oust the three justices chips away at the firewall that should protect the courts from politics, a Florida Times-Union article reported.
Another group that has unveiled advertising critical of the court is Americans for Prosperity, founded by the billionaire Koch brothers. In the Miami Herald, columnist Carl Hiaasen derided the effort as a transparent ploy to dump three judges so Republican Gov. Rick Scott could pick their successors and “pack the Supreme Court.”
A Tampa Bay Times editorial blasts efforts, recently joined by the Florida Republican Party, to oust three Florida Supreme Court justices in a November election. The editorial’s headline calls the drive “a supreme attempt to intimidate.”
A conservative group called Restore Justice 2012 has led the way in targeting the three justices because it disagrees with some of the court’s rulings, according to the editorial. When the state GOP announced on Friday (see Gavel Grab) that it would oppose the justices’ retention, the GOP “injected unprecedented political pressure into the mix,” the editorial says. All told, “This is just the latest in a growing special-interest movement nationwide aimed at intimidating the courts.”
The three justices will come before the voters in a retention (up-or-down) election, aimed not a providing a referendum on court decisions but at reviewing the justices’ impartiality and professional conduct in applying the law, the editorial notes. But it finds in the ouster campaign a different, corrupting attitude at work:
“Whether voters agree or disagree with the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion … is not what merit retention is about, regardless of any special-interest group’s effort to corrupt the process. States such as Iowa have seen their supreme court justices thrown out by voters because of the unpopularity of a legal decision. Floridians should not fall for such an attempt to intimidate the state’s highest court and compromise its independence.”
BULLETIN: In a statement, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said, “Americans deserve courts that answer to the law, not to party bosses.
“If judges can’t make hard calls based on the law, without looking over their shoulder at threats of political retaliation, it will become harder for them to uphold the Constitution and protect people’s rights. Democrats and Republicans alike would do well to avoid injecting partisan politics into America‘s courtrooms.”
The executive committee of the Republican Party of Florida has voted its opposition to keeping three Florida Supreme Court justices on the bench for another term. The justices will appear on a retention (yes-or-no) ballot this fall.
Florida voters have never dumped a justice or judge in a retention election. An Associated Press article about the GOP executive committee action reported the latest news this way:
“The Florida Republican Party is putting politics back in state Supreme Court elections.”
A conservative group called Restore Justice 2012 has targeted the three justices, accusing them of judicial activism and taking issue with some of the court’s rulings.
Defenders of fair and impartial courts have warned that the retention elections were implemented for voters to pass on a judge’s qualifications and competence, and not to serve as a referendum on one or more rulings. The latter would inject politics into the courtroom, they say.
Efforts to remove three Florida Supreme Court justices in a retention (yes-or-no) election add up to “a stealth attack on judicial independence,” former state House Democratic Rep. Dick Batchelor writes in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed.
A group called Restore Justice 2012 has targeted the trio because it disagrees with several of the court’s rulings, Batchelor says, and it thereby is working to politicize the retention elections that are commonly a feature of merit-based judicial selection systems.
Such attempts “threaten to undermine the court’s integrity and impartiality, raising the specter of a politically malleable judiciary,” Batchelor adds.
“Retaining their jobs should not depend on justices handing down decisions that align with the ideologies of some political factions,” he contends. “Their retention should solely depend on their diligent stewardship of the U.S. and Florida constitutions, and by that standard they have done their jobs well.”
His commentary is headlined, “Independent high court protects people’s rights.”
While most voters are focusing on who they will choose in the presidential election, the Florida Bar Association is encouraging people to vote in a judicial election that many might ignore, states a Daytona Beach News-Journal article.
Three out of seven of Florida’s state Supreme Court justices and 15 appeals court judges statewide are up for retention election in November. The article says that “30 percent fewer people vote” in these races than those for president, according to Florida Bar Association president Gwynne Young.
“It’s important to vote in these races and not ignore it,” Young said. “We have this system as an alternative to corrupt judges.”
Young also says retention elections are becoming more political, especially as campaign money comes in from “out of the state.”
Currently, a campaign is aimed at removing the state Supreme Court Justices up for retention (see Gavel Grab). An organization called Restore Justice 2012 is leading the campaign to remove them based on rulings it disagrees with. Young, on the other hand, says “politics can and should be kept out of court decisions.”
Part of the debate centers on conflicting views regarding the justices’ approval ratings. According to a WCTV report, the Florida Bar Association gave the justices 90 percent approval, while Restore Justice gave all three an ‘F.’
Former American Bar Association President Sandy D’Alemberte decries the failing grades, arguing they are “based on poor data.” Merit retention is not a means to remove justices simply because you disagree with them, he says.
D’Alemberte expressed concerns that the retention process will be politicized if the justices are voted off the bench, and Florida justice will no longer be blind.
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero (photo) has joined efforts to defend three current justices in the debate over their retention elections in November, the Miami Herald reports.
The three Florida Supreme Court Justices have been targeted by conservatives calling for their ouster (see Gavel Grab). According to the article, Cantero said retention elections are designed to let voters dump justices for misconduct, not for disagreement over a court ruling or judicial philosophy.
“I do not believe my former colleagues conducted any kind of misconduct that would warrant their removal from office,” Cantero said, contending his former colleagues deserve a vote of support in November.
Groups and individuals defending the justices are concerned about a last minute surge of money used towards a “sneak attack” of negative advertising close to the election, states an Orlando Sentinel article. It was one of several news reports providing further coverage after a conference call on Tuesday by a group called Defend Justice from Politics.
“Pumping in millions of dollars from outside into trying to influence the decisions of the court is a terrible idea and the beginning of the destruction of the independence of the judiciary,” said former Miami state Sen. Alex Villalobos.
GOP lawmakers have been highly critical of the state’s high court, the article explains. Critics accused the court of being “activist” when the justices asked Florida’s Legislature to re-write a health-care amendment in 2011.
Villalobos called the claims of judicial activism ironic. “This court is being accused of being activist for not being activist,” he said. To learn more about the ouster effort by Restore Justice 2012, a conservative, non-profit group, see Gavel Grab.
Defend Justice from Politics, a committee supporting three Florida Supreme Court justices who are targeted by conservatives for ouster in a retention election, mobilized prominent names on Tuesday to educate voters.
Courts ought not be the target of “political pressure. It is to be a fair and impartial branch of government,” former Florida Justice Raoul Cantero said in a conference call, according to a Palm Beach Post article.
Restore Justice 2012, an activist group targeting the justices, recently released scorecards that gave failing grades to each of the justices on a series of court rulings. Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, a former American Bar Association president, dismissed the ratings as a “very shoddy job.”