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.

Federalist Society Becomes Latest Organization to Back Florida Supreme Court

The Federalist Society, a conservative law and public policy group, recently became the latest group to come out in opposition to the removal of Florida Supreme Court Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis, and Peggy Quince. Despite a fellowship for law students meant to further conservative and libertarian principles, they have shot down the right wing push to have the justices removed on November 6, according to the Miami Herald. Their opposition to the removal of the Supreme Court justices comes as a surprise to many, as they are bucking the trend of other high profile figures with similar ideologies. The Federalist Society has published a report in which they contest that the Supreme Court has acted as “judicial activists.”

The Federalist Society recently commissioned Elizabeth Price Foley, a Florida International University professor, to review the nine cases being cited for “judicial activism” and the votes of the three justices up for retention. After reviewing the cases, Foley found no instances of activism in any of the nine decisions. “There are disagreements, true. But disagreements do not suggest that those with whom you disagree are unprincipled,” stated Foley. Due to the lack of evidence supporting activism, Foley believes that opponents of retention will have a difficult time making these accusations stick. Foley echoes a sentiment that In The Court has been saying for months: Justices can disagree over interpretations of the law, but as long as they are interpreting the law they are not failing in their responsibilities to the State of Florida.

The Federalist Society’s decision to buck the trend of their own party and ideology has come as a shock to many. The decision to break from groups like the Sunshine State News, who have demonized justices Lewis, Quince, and Pariente at every turn and recently called the Federalist Society “the nation’s premier fellowship of conservative and libertarian law students,” comes from the fact that they are a group of lawyers. While the Federalist Society may be a bedrock of conservative principles, they have chosen, like most legal groups, to back the justices on their interpretation of the law, not how conservative the court’s decisions are.

Despite the hard push from the right wing and the Florida Republican Committee to force out the justices, there have been many dissenters from the right side of the political aisle. Former Governor Charlie Christ and former State Republican party chair Jim Greer have already spoken out in favor of retention of the justices. Recently, the Naples News reported that Attorney General Pam Bondi refuses take a position on retention, despite the fact that her boss, Governor Rick Scott, has been one of the staunchest advocates of the justices’ removal. The bipartisan support for the justices makes it clear that this quest for removal truly has become a witch hunt.

While the choice should have been clear from the start, increasing support of retention from conservatives leaves little doubt that retention of Supreme Court justices Lewis, Pariente, and Quince is in the best interest of all Floridians.

Former Florida Republican Chairman Greer Calls Merit Retention Fight Wrong

Jim Greer, the former Florida Republican chairman who is currently preparing to go to trial over stealing $200,000 from the party, has stated that the witch hunt on the state Supreme Court by republicans and special interest groups is wrong. Greer stated that the party has no right to get involved in the makeup of the Supreme Court or the judiciary as a whole. Greer believes that the current party is attempting to replace anyone whose political views don’t match up with the Republican leadership, including those who are upholding constitutional protections. Greer released his statement just mere days after current Florida GOP chairman stated that the Florida Republican Executive Committee were advising their constituents to vote to remove Supreme Court justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and Fred Lewis.

While the Florida GOP and proponents of removing the justices have denied that their desire to see the justice’s removed isn’t politically charged, their actions speak otherwise. Restore Justice 2012, a special interest group aggressively pushing for the removal of the justices, recently announced that they are launching a TV ad campaign to remove the justices—a tactic normally reserved for political campaigns. While Restore Justice has claimed that their goal is to educate Floridians on the voting records of the justices, they have yet to show why the justices should be removed.

Restore Justice 2012’s website, in and of itself, shows that this is a fight over politics: their signature piece of attack propaganda is their trademark judicial scorecard. You may ask what’s the problem with the scorecard? Well, it doesn’t list anywhere on it where the justices have failed to uphold the Florida and United States constitution. According to their scorecard, the grades are based on constitutional restraint and the level of judicial activism. In other words, what have the justices done for the right-wing lately? It stinks of politics and the desire to push the judicial system to the right.

The fight to remove the justice’s began in earnest in 2010 when the Florida Supreme Court removed three proposed constitutional amendments from the ballot. The amendments as shown on the ballot were deceptively worded, with the clear intent to confuse voters. Due to their wording, the justices removed them, setting off a firestorm with the right wing. Despite the fact that the justices went out of the way to protect Floridian’s rights, they have been persecuted and the victims of what amounts to a witch hunt. Should the right wing get its way, Governor Rick Scott will be able to nominate three new justices. In all likelihood, theses justices will fit Scott’s own Tea Party belief system, allowing Scott and the Florida legislature to craft as many deceitful amendments as they can. The battle over the Florida Supreme Court’s merit retention goes much deeper than politics in the judiciary, it’s about basic constitutional rights. Should Restore Justice 2012 and the Florida GOP get their way, the constitution will no longer serve the purpose it was designed for: to protect the people. The Governor and republicans in the legislature will be able to abuse the constitution at will, and no justice will be able to oppose them without fearing for their own job security.

When someone as conservative and radical as Jim Greer comes out vehemently opposed to the removal of justices, people should know there is a problem. “They’re abusing their power to stack the deck..It’s an unimaginative page straight from The Pelican Brief,” stated Greer. With personal freedoms and the future of the Florida constitution at stake, it’s of the utmost importance that every Floridian votes FOR retention of Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis, and Peggy Quince.