Florida Republicans Join the Merit Retention Fray

The fight to remove Florida state Supreme Court justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and Fred Lewis has officially entered the political arena. While the assault on the judicial branch had resembled a political campaign, the Florida Republican party has officially made it one. Last Friday, the executive committee of Florida’s Republican Party told their constituents that they should vote to reject the three justices up for retention, according to the Florida Current. While Lenny Curry, the Florida GOP chairman, denied the decision was political, it has become clear that politics is absolutely at the root of it.

The republicans have cited “judicial activism” as their reasoning for recommending voters to remove the justices. The committee’s evidence for judicial activism comes from a death penalty ruling that the court made, ordering a retrial for Joe Elton Nixon. Curry and his committee’s reasoning, however, lacks logic as the Florida Supreme Court ruled for Nixon’s retrial in 2003, meaning there has already been a chance for these justices to be removed. Additionally, after the United States Supreme Court sent Nixon’s case back to Florida for reconsideration, the Supreme Court changed their earlier ruling and held up his initial conviction and sentence. As the handling of the Nixon case clearly cannot be seen as judicial activism, which leaves only one answer as to why the Executive Committee recommended the removal of justices: politics.

Unlike Restore Justice 2012, which perhaps you could argue lack the intellectual capital to understand the point of the Supreme Court, the Republican Executive Committee are made up of people who should know better. While Curry denied this when asked, it has become painfully clear that the committee and other state republican officials would like to see the justices removed so that Governor Rick Scott will be able to appoint three new conservative justices. If Rick Scott were to be able to appoint new justices, it would alter the judicial landscape in Florida. Laws would be based on how conservative they are or aren’t, rather than whether a given law abides with the constitution.

“If the Republican Party wants to insert itself into the judiciary, it’s a colossal mistake,” stated Sandy D’Alemberte, a Tallahassee lawyer and former president of the American Bar Association. The removal of the Florida justices has the potential to forever alter the judicial system in Florida, which in turn, could set the stage for negative change throughout the country. While it’s hard to quantify the effects of the removal of the justices on the national level, it’s not hard to see what the result would be here in Florida: A shift towards corporations and the far right, where the governor already resides. Additionally, justices Quince, Lewis, and Pariente’s removal would turn the judicial branch into an arm of the executive branch. Justices will be forced to pander to the masses instead of impartially interpret the laws set forth in the Florida Constitution. When one takes into consideration all of the facts surrounding the possible removal of the three justices, it’s not hard to see why Floridians should vote to retain Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and Fred Lewis.

Breaking Down the Flaws in Restore Justice’s 2012 Argument

As the months-long witch hunt to kick out Justices Pariente, Lewise, and Quince from the Florida Supreme Court continues, it is important to assess the reasoning behind Restore Justice 2012 and others who propose kicking out the three justices. Paul Owens wrote an article in which he linked one argument for and one argument against retention of the Florida Supreme Court justices. One article is by Dick Batchelor and explains why we should keep the three justices up for retention. The other is by Jesse Phillips, and deals with why we should be willing to oppose retention. The latter is the article that most represents the stance of Restore Justice 2012, a stance that most of the Florida Bar—made up of people who understand the law and what it takes to be a good justice–take issue. Phillips arguments are as follows (in bold):

“The Florida Bar, the professional association for lawyers, answers these questions differently than I. Recent press reports indicate 23 former Florida Bar presidents and 90 percent of lawyers polled by the Bar back the justices. This is no surprise since lawyers want to be on good terms with the judges that will hear their cases.”

The logic in this argument seems sound, but when further examined, it doesn’t stand up. The above logic implies that the Florida Supreme Court hears a significant amount of cases, that they directly affect all members of the Florida Bar, and that they have access to those who participated in the poll. On all three counts, Mr. Phillips is wrong. The Florida Supreme Court, as with any Supreme Court, hears very few cases a year. The only cases that the Supreme Court has to hear are those that involve judgments imposing the death penalty, district court decisions declaring a portion of the state constitutions invalid, bond validation judgments, and actions of statewide agencies relating to public utilities. Additionally, the Florida Bar is made up of all lawyers able to practice in Florida, most of whom will never see the Supreme Court’s chambers. Lastly, the Supreme Court Justices have no access to the poll that was handed out to the Florida Bar, so the idea that lawyers would approve of them to gain favors is ludicrous. The idea that the Florida Bar is “pandering” to the Justices is childish and not backed up by facts.

“Although I’m no lawyer, I — like you — am personally impacted by the decisions they make. The opinions these judges render on issues like property rights, health care, education, the right to vote, frivolous lawsuits and justice for victims are important to me.”

Mr. Phillips is making the case that he is affected by the Supreme Court and should be able to remove them if he isn’t happy. What Mr. Phillips and supporters of removing the justices seem to miss is that the Supreme Court isn’t there to make the citizens of Florida happy. The members of the Supreme Court are in office to accurately interpret the constitution, not to approve laws because Florida residents favor or oppose them. Members of the legislative branch are elected into office by residents to vote for what their constituents want. The Supreme Court is in office to make sure that the laws members of the legislative branch pass aren’t illegal – not to make the rest of the state happy.

“As the resident “experts,” the state’s lawyers have utterly failed in their responsibility to help voters. They should be openly analyzing and critiquing Supreme Court decisions on our behalf. Yet their inexcusable silence required me — an information-technology guy with a wife and three sons — to start this conversation with Restore Justice 2012.”

The argument that the “word” needed to be spread that the state’s lawyers needed to speak up is also riddled with holes. As mentioned earlier, the state’s lawyers gave them such a high approval rating because they believe that the justices are accurately interpreting law, which is, of course, their job. The idea that an IT guy such as Mr. Phillips or a bunch of special interest groups pushing a right wing agenda would be able to better evaluate the justices decisions than the Florida Bar is ridiculous.

“They rejected a challenge to Obamacare. They struck down a school-voucher law, siding with the teachers unions instead of parents trying to get their kids out of failing public schools. They sided with powerful regulatory agencies and made it nearly impossible at times for homeowners to get fair compensation for their land.”

Now we get to the heart of the issue that Mr. Phillips and Restore Justice 2012 have with the Florida Supreme Court. Do you know what all of these issues have in common? They have all been pushed in Florida and various other states by Republicans and right-wing special interest groups. It’s not a coincidence that the governor who appointed these justices was a Democrat. When one looks at this statement it becomes pretty clear that this crusade against the Supreme Court is clearly political. Mr. Phillips suggests that these rulings are unacceptable, when in fact Obamacare was held up by The United States Supreme Court, who are the final law in the United States.

Mr. Phillips article makes it painfully clear that both he and Restore Justice 2012 are biased. None of their viewpoints are backed up by facts, but are merely ramblings about how the Supreme Court screwed up because they dared to disagree with the far right. Mr. Phillips and Restore Justice are treating the Supreme Court like members of the Legislative Branch of government, and merit retention as a political tool. They completely ignore the fact that merit retention was only created to put an end to corruption in the Supreme Court, not to turn justices into politicians. Rejecting this radical view and voting to retain justices Quince, Lewis, and Pariente is essential to maintaining the system of checks and balances that our founders bestowed upon us.

New Florida Poll Indicates Significant Support for Supreme Court Retention

A new Florida poll shows the Florida state Supreme Court getting an overwhelming vote of confidence from the Florida bar, according to the Herald. The poll asked bar members about their support of the three Supreme Court justices up for retention, as well as 15 appellate court judges. The poll showed the Supreme Court justices with an average approval of 90 percent while the 15 appellate judges received approval ratings ranging from 76 to 94 percent. The poll could be a useful campaign tool for the Supreme Court justices in their quest to retain their seats.

The poll is yet another indication that the witch hunt to throw out the justices Lewis, Pariente, and Quince is ridiculous. The fact that 7,857 lawyers participated in the poll gives the justices something significant to hang their hats on in the two months leading up to election day. The poll’s significance is derived from the fact that lawyers by nature are better evaluators of a Supreme Court’s performance than the average Florida resident. For the Florida Supreme Court, this as strong an endorsement as they could have hoped to land, as no attack ad can discredit the opinions of close to 8,000 lawyers. The poll also validates what pundits have been saying for months now: Restore Justice 2012’s efforts are being fueled by special interests rather than by poor performance by the justices.

The point of the Supreme Court is to interpret the law as set forth in the Constitution in order to maintain a system of checks and balances. Supreme Court justices are not supposed to make decisions based on being a liberal or conservative, but rather based on what the law says and their interpretation of it. Restore Justice 2012, however, feels differently; they are trying to undermine the Constitution and the very fabric America was built from by trying to remove justices Quince, Pariente, and Lewis. Restore Justice 2012 hopes to have Rick Scott appoint three new justices who will disregard the Constitution and make decisions based on ideology and corporate America.

The stakes are higher than most Floridians realize. Should Restore Justice 2012 and the Tea Party get their way, it will allow Governor Scott and the conservative legislature to do pretty much whatever they want. Governor Scott would be able to pass pretty much any law or amendment regardless of how radical it is because he will have three justices who he knows will support him. Should Restore Justice 2012 get their way, it will reshape the judicial system and allow Governor Scott to turn Florida into his personal playground. Voters should look at this poll and think long and hard before deciding to cast a vote against retention.

The bar poll makes it clear that the Supreme Court have not done anything worth being thrown out for. The poll targeted the most knowledgeable people in the state in regard to the judicial system, and they overwhelmingly agree that all three justices should be retained. Whether or not to retain the Supreme Court justices shouldn’t be an issue of politics, but rather an issue of values and integrity. Should the justices be removed, it will undermine the integrity of the Florida judicial system, as well as the values set forth in the state and national Constitutions. Checks and balances were created to regulate the political system. By allowing Rick Scott to appoint three new justices those regulations will be completely gone. Come November, Floridians need to stand up to the Governor and special interests and vote to retain justices Pariente, Quince, and Lewis, as well as the integrity of the Florida judicial system.

Florida Bar Presidents Slam Smear Campaign

23 former Florida Bar presidents recently signed a joint resolution supporting the retention of Supreme Court Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and Fred Lewis. The former Bar presidents believe, like many other pundits, that the effort being made by Restore Justice 2012 to kick out the justices is fundamentally wrong. The joint resolution points out that this witch hunt politicizes justices, precisely what the state of Florida was trying to avoid when merit retention was created. The resolution also shows concern on behalf of the Florida Bar presidents that the public will vote not to retain the current Supreme Court justices without being properly informed.

The resolution discusses in detail the reason for merit retention and the reason this Supreme Court should stay intact. “We are concerned that the public has forgotten or is unaware of how the use of Judicial Nominating Commissions along with Merit Retention and Selection of appellate judges and non­ partisan elections has helped to give Florida one of the best judicial systems in the nation,” the resolution reads. Merit retention was not created to measure justice performance, it was created to prevent justice corruption. Restore Justice 2012 has disputed this and are campaigning purely against justice performance.

Part of the marketing plan of Restore Justice 2012 was the creation of a scorecard. The score card lists six groups: Homeowners’ Rights, Patients’ Rights, Education, Right To Vote, Criminal Justice, and Junk Lawsuits. The scorecard shows all three justices failing in every category. However the scorecard does not tell the whole story: that the justices’ jobs are to protect the constitution. Restore Justice 2012 gives the justices failing grades not because they violated the Florida State or United States Constitutions, but because they refused to conform to a right wing ideology. The push to throw out the justices is being made so that Governor Rick Scott can appoint three new right wing justices who will govern based on what the far right and special interests want.

The choice come November is a stark one for Floridians. Keep the justice system fair and honest, or allow new justices to be appointed who will disregard the constitution in favor of their own political interests. Should Justices Pariente, Quince, and Lewis be removed from office, a dangerous precedent will be set. The corruption in the Florida judicial system which has been dormant for the last 30+ years will be awoken as justices will have to pander to the whims of politicians in order to keep their jobs. In order to protect their rights, constitution, and justice system, Floridians need to stand up to the corporate money backing this smear campaign and retain their Supreme Court justices.