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.

Roberts Healthcare Decision Highlights Impartiality of the Bench

The recent decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was shocking, unpredictable, and scandalous; but only to those who had hoped the Supreme Court would emerge as the third political branch of the U.S. government. In previous rulings, Roberts had sided with the Court’s conservative stronghold, including on contentious issues like campaign finance, abortion, and affirmative action. Yet in one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in recent memory, Roberts bucked the trend, shirked his own ideology, and showed precisely why the impartiality of the bench must be preserved.

Polls have shown that respect for the highest court in the land have been dipping lately, presumably due to the perception that the members of the bench had morphed into simple extensions of the presidents that nominated them. Roberts, in one week, single-handedly crushed that sentiment. With the Court’s decisions regarding Arizona’s immigration laws and Obama’s healthcare overhaul, the Court’s objectivity was restored. While the political tendencies of justices will never be completely eradicated, Roberts’ decision on healthcare illustrates the incredible importance of impartiality of the bench. For this Supreme Court, despite their deep divisions, decided by a majority that the law is the utmost importance, not political opinions.

Florida is entangled in much of the same drama that has surrounded the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2010, the Florida Supreme Court voted 5-2 to reject a constitutional amendment that would allow Florida to opt-out of federal health care reform because it failed to meet the state’s ballot requirements. The same conclusion had been made by Circuit Judge James Shelfer, who himself concluded that the amendment’s wording was “manifestly misleading,” and must be removed from the ballot. Despite this technical mistake perpetrated by the conservative creators of the amendment, Tea Party ideologues harped upon this decision as “activist” and said the justices were “legislating from the bench.” The focus quickly drifted from what was acceptable under the law, to what was politically convenient. Groups like “Restore Justice 2012” emerged, convincing voters to vote “no” on all three justices in the impending merit retention vote and aiming to give Tea Party governor Rick Scott the ability to nominate three new conservative justices. Although merit retention was intended to remove money and politics from the judiciary, its recent hijacking has threatened to do just the opposite.

After his groundbreaking decision, Roberts spoke briefly of the U.S. Supreme Court’s legacy, saying that he hoped they would be remembered “for protecting equal justice under the law.” The majority decision succinctly stated: “We do not consider whether the act embodied sound policies. That judgment is entrusted to the Nation’s elected leaders. We ask only whether Congress has the power under the Constitution to enact the challenge provisions.” This holding echoed, ironically, President Barack Obama’s rationale for opposing Roberts’ nomination to the Court. Whilst Obama thought Roberts would favor the strong over the weak, Roberts assured Congress that he would instead act as a judicial umpire, not intending to pitch or bat.

In the same token, Floridians must not get sucked into the vagaries frequently spewed by the Tea Party and its supporters. We must take the courageous lead from Chief Justice John Roberts and judge our justices on their application of the law, not their political ideologies. As I’m sure we can all agree, more than enough politics are played in the executive and legislative branches of our government. We must not let money, politics, and subjectivity enter our judicial branch. Vote “yes” for the law, “yes” for an impartial bench, and “yes” for Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis, and Peggy Quince.