Future of Florida Judicial System on the Line Tuesday

While Florida has received heavy national attention due to its role as a swing state in the presidential election, an arguably more important decision will need to be made by Florida residents on Tuesday: whether to retain Florida Supreme Court justices Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince, and Barbara Pariente. Floridians will have to decide whether to keep custom by retaining the justices, or buck the trend and remove them from office. The importance of this vote cannot be taken for granted. Removing the justices would set a precedent that was meant to be avoided by the creation of merit retention: mixing law and politics.

Merit retention was implemented in Florida in the 1970s to end judicial corruption and political influence on justices. The idea behind merit retention was that justices would have to interpret the law without outside influence because Floridians would now have the option to remove them if they maintained their corruption. Justices are motivated to interpret only the constitution because the people now have the opportunity to remove them from office every six years. Since the inception of merit retention, there has yet to be a Supreme Court justice removed from office in this manner. That trend is now in danger as several right wing special interest groups have started a witch hunt to have the three justices up for retention removed.

These special interest groups, led by Restore Justice 2012, have tried to secure a right wing Florida Supreme Court by demonizing and defaming the justices up for retention, placing the integrity of the entire Florida judicial system at stake. Restore Justice 2012 has been aggressively pushing for the removal of the three justices so that three more right wing justices will replace them. What most Floridians don’t realize is that should the justices be removed, the governor of Florida is charged with appointing new justices to replace them. Not coincidentally, Florida currently has a right wing Tea Party governor, Rick Scott, who has also been pushing for the removal of the justices. By removing the justices, Governor Scott would have the ability to replace the justices with three of his choosing who would serve his political agenda.

Justice’s Quince, Pariente, and Lewis have come under fire not for their interpretation of the law but because their rulings have allegedly been “left-leaning.” Restore Justice 2012 created a scorecard giving the justices Fs across the board. Restore Justice 2012 fail to mention in their report card, however, how the justices various rulings fail to honor the Florida and United States constitutions. Instead, the report card hands out grades based on the ideological connotations of the justices’ decisions. What Restore Justice 2012, Governor Rick Scott, and the rest of the opponents of the justices fail to see, is the problem with voting based on ideology. Retention was not meant to be decided based on the political ideology of the justices on the ballot, but rather on whether they made rulings based on their interpretation of the constitution. Based on that criteria, there is no evidence whatsoever that suggests the justices have used anything but the constitution as a guide for making their decisions.

On Tuesday Floridians will cast a ballot not just for their next president, but also for the future of their judicial system. Should they choose to remove justices Quince, Pariente, and Lewis, they will effectively be turning back the clock to pre-retention times. Corruption may once again enter the legal system, as justices will make decisions based on the political climate for fear of a special interest group bombarding them with ads and pushing for their removal. Should Floridians spurn Restore Justice and its allies, they will show that judicial integrity and a better future are most important to them.

Supreme Court justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis, and Peggy Quince have received a number of endorsements including former Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer, former governor Charlie Crist, the Federalist Society, and the Florida bar. These endorsements come from across both sides of the political aisle, showing the importance of ending the witch-hunt and keeping the Florida Supreme Court intact.