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.

Florida Supreme Court Justices Kick Off Their First Campaign

Three members of the Florida state Supreme Court have begun to hit the campaign trail to try and solidify their standing for November’s election. Justice Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and Fred Lewis are all on the November voting ballot for merit retention. The campaigning is unheard of by a state Supreme Court, almost as unheard of as the circumstances surrounding the November ballot. While there has never been a Florida justice removed from the Supreme Court before, that could very well change this year.

The three Florida justices up for merit retention have unfortunately found themselves facing a situation unlike anything that’s ever been seen in Florida before: A swath of special interest groups are actively mounting an advertising campaign to have the three justices removed. In light of this opposition, the Florida Supreme Court justices have begun to campaign around Florida. Their goal is to educate the electorate about what merit retention is and about their own records. The justices are trying to inform people on the importance of excluding politics from the Supreme Court. The justices are meeting with everyone ranging from regular residents to newspaper outlets.

The position the justices have been put in is a precarious one. In order to keep their jobs, they are being forced to tread a fine line between actively campaigning and undermining the Florida judicial system. Of course, the upheaval of the legal system could be completely avoided if the justices were left to do their job. Unfortunately a technicality, merit retention, has allowed special interest groups to pour money into races against judges. These special interest groups are trying to force the justices into voting how the people want, rather than voting based on the constitution they were sworn to uphold.

Ironically, the merit system was created to remove politics from the Supreme Court. Lawmakers believed that justices would be more likely to be impartial if they didn’t have to worry about running against another candidate. Until the last couple of years, the system has operated as smoothly as it was planned, until special interests and super PACs found a way to get the three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010. What’s at stake this November is more than just the positions of three justices, it’s also the role of the legal system, constitution, and politics in Florida. Should Florida’s Supreme Court members be removed a dangerous precedent will be set as justices may start pandering to special interests and lobbyists just to keep their jobs.

As November gets closer you can expect to see much more of your Supreme Court justices than you ever have before. They will in all likelihood stay in the public eye as they try to fight off smear campaigns, right wing special interest groups pouring ungodly sums of money into the race, and even their own governor. For the first time the Florida Supreme Court is being forced to actively campaign. The only way to stop this witch hunt and maintain the strength of the legal system is to make sure that all three justices are retained.