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Legislators Criticize Florida High Court Over Redistricting Ruling

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

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Florida Representative: Subpoenas for Justices?

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.

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Nearly $14 Million Spent for TV Ads in State Supreme Court Races

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.

JAS-LogoThe 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.

20100304214046_Brennan_Logo_2007_small-3Outside 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

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On Amendment 3: 'Future of the Florida Supreme Court at Stake'


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.

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Editorial Scorches Florida Amendment as Assault on Courts

florida-state-flagBy voting no on a proposed constitutional amendment about judicial appointments, an Orlando Sentinel editorial declares, “Floridians can repudiate this latest politically motivated attempt to manipulate the state’s courts.”

The proposed amendment would allow an outgoing governor to make prospective judicial appointments to fill certain vacancies that take effect on inauguration day. The editorial slams it as reflecting “crude power politics” and representing another in a series of “misguided attempts to assert more control over the courts” by legislators in Tallahassee.

While supporters of the proposed amendment say it is needed to avert a potential constitutional crisis due to confusion about existing law, the editorial asserts that a Florida Supreme Court advisory opinion in 2006 clarifies that an incoming governor has the relevant appointment power. The editorial says an amendment is not needed. Read more

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LWV of Florida Will Oppose Constitutional Amendment

The League of Women Voters of Florida has announced its opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow an outgoing governor to make certain prospective appointments of judges.

votersThe organization announced its opposition in a conference call this week, according to the Orlando Weekly blog, and retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Anstead, a participant in the call, labeled the proposal “the latest in continuing efforts to politicize the third branch of government.”

At its own website, the League of Women Voters of Florida states about the proposal, “the League cannot support an amendment that could be used to undermine the independence of the judiciary; that is why we do not support Amendment 3.” Voters will weigh the ballot measure in November. Read more

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First Cuban-American Chief Justice Takes Oath in Florida

-court090712gb15.jpg20120907“This is the way our judicial system should look,” Jorge Labarga said after taking the oath of office Monday to become Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

He is the first Cuban-American to become Chief Justice in Florida, and from the court’s dais, he extended his arms toward his six fellow justices, according to the Miami Herald. They include a white woman, an African-American man, an African-American woman, and three white men.

Justice Labarga was appointed to the circuit court by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1996, and to the Supreme Court by then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009. He was selected Chief Justice by his colleagues.

“Chief Justice Labarga is the first Cuban-American to ascend to chief justice, but he is also the first justice of Hispanic descent to ascend to chief justice,” former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero said, according to The Sun-Sentinel. “This is a very proud moment for all Hispanics.”

Justice at Stake believes that diversity on the bench improves the quality of justice and builds faith and confidence in the legitimacy of the courts. You can learn more from the JAS web page on the topic.

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Court-Packing Measure Approved by Florida House

florida sealA proposed constitutional amendment that would enable a Florida Supreme Court-packing scheme advanced closer to a statewide referendum when the state House approved it 74-45 along partisan lines on Wednesday.

It would allow an outgoing governor to make prospective appointments of judges, and if enacted would permit the next governor to choose a majority of the state Supreme Court. The state Senate approved the measure earlier, and for it to become law, it must win approval of 60 percent of voters on Election Day, according to a Miami Herald blog post.

The measure specifically would allow a governor who is stepping down to make appointments to the bench for vacancies that occur on inauguration day, in order to clarify uncertainty in existing law as to whether such appointments are made by the arriving, or departing, governor. Read more

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Potential Changes for Merit Selection in Alaska and Florida

The possibility of moving merit selection legislation forward in several states was covered on Gavel Grab last week.  Since then some of the mentioned changes have moved forward in Alaska and Florida as reported on Gavel to Gavel.

In Alaska, two bills have the potential to alter the state’s Judicial Council.  While one went into limbo due to a canceled hearing, the SJR 21 was amended and voted on in the Senate Finance Committee and will be advanced to the Senate Floor.

Meanwhile, the Florida Senate has advanced a proposed constitutional amendment to allow governors to make “prospective appointments” for anticipated appellate court vacancies.  If the amendment goes on to be approved and Republican Governor Rick Scott is reelected, he could fill all three seats on the state supreme court currently being held by Democrat-appointed justices.

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Florida Court-Packing Proposal Advances in State Senate

A court-packing proposal that would permit Florida’s next governor to choose a majority of the state Supreme Court (see Gavel Grab) won approval in a state Senate committee, and it faces a hearing in a second committee later.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow an outgoing governor to make prospective appointments of judges. At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, panel chairman and bill sponsor Sen. Tom Lee, a Republican, said the measure was intended to clarify muddled existing law and avoid the possibility of a constitutional crisis when one governor is leaving office, a successor is taking office, and a justice’s term expires on inauguration day.

According to a Miami Herald blog, however, the proposal allows court-packing, and Democrats opposed it:

“[B]ecause of a coincidence of timing, the terms of three of the seven sitting justices are expected to expire at the same time as the term of the next governor. As a result, the proposed amendment effectively allows the governor elected in 2014 to stack the court as one Read more

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