A proposal for term limits on appellate and state Supreme Court judges was approved by the Florida House Judiciary Committee along party lines, with one Democrat calling it “the worst bill moving through the Legislature” this season.
Republican backers have called the proposal a means to achieve more accountability of top judges, according to The News Service of Florida, while Democratic critics portray it as retaliation against court rulings that have displeased legislators.
The board of governors of The Florida Bar opposes the bill. You can learn more about it from Gavel Grab. The measure now goes to the full House.
As the House Appropriations Committee divided along party lines, Republican backers contended the measure would bring more accountability to judges, and they said an existing retention (up-or-down) election system is falling short of providing accountability.
Democratic leaders, in turn, questioned whether the proposal is more closely targeted at retaliating against judges with whom Republican legislators disagree. Sunshine State News noted that conservative legislators have been repeatedly thwarted by the state’s highest court on redistricting and other issues, when the court found the legislature’s action unconstitutional. Read more
In the Sacramento Bee, a commentary by editorial page editor Dan Morain highlights the big stakes at play in state judicial elections, and reports $90.1 million has been spent to shape state supreme court elections since 2011, according to Justice at Stake.
Tracing the work of a Sacramento political consultant who has advised clients in some state Supreme Court retention elections, Morain connects the dots between the Florida Supreme Court striking down parts of a Republican-drawn redistricting plan in Florida, and its ruling having resulted in a more Democrat-friendly district where former Gov. Charles Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat, is running for the U.S. House.
The consultant worked for Defend Justice from Politics, a group that urged Florida voters in 2012 to retain three justices who were targeted for removal from the court (for background, see Gavel Grab). The justices were retained, and ultimately were part of the court handing down the redistricting decision.
The Crist candidacy, Morain writes, “provides a lesson in why the makeup of a state supreme court 3,000 miles away matters … and on the threat posed to democracy by attempts often orchestrated by partisan conservatives to unseat justices Read more
“A measure aimed at asking voters to impose two-term limits on Florida Supreme Court justices and appellate judges made its way Tuesday through a House panel — but still faces a long route through the Legislature,” according to a report in The Palm Beach Post.
The move was described as blatantly political by The Tampa Tribune. “The proposal comes after years of rising anger in the Legislature at members of the Supreme Court,” the paper noted, adding that “the state’s highest court has emerged as the only major hurdle in Tallahassee to Republicans’ conservative agenda.”
The Tribune goes on to note an unsuccessful effort to defeat three members of the court majority — R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — in the 2012 elections. That year also saw an unsuccessful effort to weaken the state’s merit selection system by requiring state Senate confirmation of Supreme Court nominees. The measure was defeated.
Florida’s Supreme Court justices and District Court of Appeals judges would be affected if the change were to be adopted, according to The Miami Herald. If the measure gains approval in the state House and Senate, it would be put before voters on the November 2016 ballot.
It appears that sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment for judicial term limits in Florida “simply want a weaker judiciary,” Martin Dyckman, a former newspaper editor, writes at the Florida Politics blog.
Under the proposal, state Supreme Court justices and judges of district courts of appeal would be barred from seeking retention to a new term after they have served two full consecutive terms. That means limits, depending when a judge is appointed, from 12 to 14 years, Dyckman says.
Former Republican legislator J. Alex Villalobos told Dyckman, “Bad idea,” regarding judicial term limits. “This is a solution in search of a problem. Don’t we want the most experienced people running our courts? Today we have members of the Legislature running for Speaker or President and they haven’t even passed one bill. How is that working out?” Florida has term limits for its executive and legislative branches. Read more
Republican leaders of the Florida Senate and House Judiciary committees have begun talking about court “reform.” But they’ve actually been talking about weakening the courts, in retaliation for the state Supreme Court’s correctly saying legislators gerrymandered political districts, Scott Maxwell writes in an Orlando Sentinel column.
This kind of attack on fair and impartial courts violates bedrock principles of the checks and balances upon which our nation was founded, Maxwell writes, and it smacks of legislators’ attacks on the Florida courts several years ago that were rejected by voters.
Maxwell doesn’t give up hope. Perhaps the leaders are reconsidering, he says. “I still have faint hope that statesmanship will prevail — that seasoned leaders such as [House Speaker Steve] Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner will realize that today’s tantrum-throwing politicians have no business trying to blow up the separation of powers that has guided this nation for generations. Read more
The Florida Supreme Court ruled last month that almost a third of the state’s 27 congressional districts violated the state Constitution. This week, at a special legislative session, lawmakers sniped at the court.
According to the Bradenton Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau, the lawmakers challenged whether the court had respected the separation of powers between the judiciary and legislature and suggested it had practically adopted a revised map drafted by Democratic “partisan operatives.”
“How does the court come in here to run roughshod over the Legislature?” asked state Sen. Tom Lee, a Republican. Read more
In the wake of a Florida Supreme Court ruling overturning new districts drawn by the state legislature, Republican Rep. Mike Hill has called for a meeting with justices to clarify the ruling. According to the Orlando Sentinel, if the justices decline the invitation, Hill suggests distributing subpoenas.
The 5-2 ruling said the legislature violated the Fair Districts amendment “by passing new congressional and state Senate districts supported by GOP consultants that favor the Republican Party,” the article explains, saying that the maps drawn were submitted by GOP consultants. Hill, on the other hand, contends that the maps supported by the court are those favored by Democrats.
TV ad spending in state supreme court elections by outside groups, political parties, and candidates since January has surged to more than $13.8 million, topping the $12.2 million spent on TV ads in the 2010 midterm elections, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice said on Wednesday.
The top overall TV spender was the Michigan Republican Party, which pumped an estimated $3.2 million into TV ads. In the forefront of outside groups investing in TV ad spending, JAS and the Brennan Center said in a joint analysis, were the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national political organization, and Campaign for 2016, active in an Illinois retention election and funded by plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Outside groups put an estimated $4.9 million into TV ad buys, and when state political party spending is included, total non-candidate TV spending jumped to more than $8.2 million this year, compared to $6 million in 2010.
“As more national players seek to bully and buy the courts, our constitutional right to a fair day in court is in jeopardy,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said. “It’s time to insulate our judges from money and partisan politics with reasonable reforms, like well-designed merit selection systems to promote quality candidates while insulating their selection from big-money pressure.” Read more
Amendment 3 is “a bizarre ‘solution’ searching for a non-existent problem,” a Sarasota Herald-Tribune editorial quotes former state Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead as saying. (For background on the proposed constitutional amendment regarding judicial appointments, see Gavel Grab.)
The editorial cites a Florida Supreme Court advisory opinion in 2006 stating that the terms of judges unable to stand for retention will expire in January following the general election. This places the timeline for replacement appointments firmly in the jurisdiction of the incoming governor if one is newly elected, according to the editorial. Without any actual “confusion over the expiration of judicial terms,” the editorial recommends a “no” vote on the amendment.
WTSP 10 News reports that Republicans are calling the amendment necessary to avert a potential constitutional crisis, while Democrats are calling it “an attempted court-packing power grab.” A WTXL TV report about the amendment quoted former state Sen. Alex Villalobos as saying, “We think that this is politicizing the way that the court works.” Villalobos, a board member of Justice at Stake, did not voice a position as a JAS board member.No comments