Public Servants Speaking Out Against Right Wing Assault

According to the Miami Herald, three public servants recently spoke out against the Florida GOP’s attacks on the state Supreme Court. Nelson Cuba and Jeff McAdams, both high ranking officials of police unions in Florida, as well as James Preston, who is the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, have publicly condemned the Florida GOP for their endorsement of the removal of Supreme Court Justices Pariente, Quince, and Lewis. Perhaps the most interesting part of the outcry from law enforcement is that the three officials are Republicans. Due to their proximity to the law, the three public servants are in a better position than most to understand the issues that go into whether the Florida Supreme Court Justices deserve to be removed from office.

The fact that the three officials are Republicans is telling. Despite their party affiliation, and the “liberal” record of the justices, Cuban, McAdams, and Preston, all understand what the dangerous potential consequences of removing the justices are. “It’s politics, pure and simple…make the right decision based on the law, not on politicians coming after them because they don’t like what they’re saying,” stated Cuba. Additionally, Cuba along with the police and fire unions have blamed Governor Rick Scott for allegedly working with several conservative special interest groups–one of which being run by the right-wing Koch brothers–to mount an effective campaign to remove the justices.

The opinions of the conservative heads of the unions show how radicalism of the efforts to remove the justices. “This is an effort to hijack the courts that we think is unacceptable…if these justices were inept, or incompetent, that is for the citizens of Florida to decide, not a political party dragging up misleading information on a decade-old death penalty case,” Preston stated. The death penalty case being referenced by Preston was that of Joe Elton Nixon, a man whose death penalty sentence was initially overturned in 2004 by this Supreme Court. However, while Nixon’s sentence was temporarily overturned, the Supreme Court eventually restored the sentence. In addition, the Florida GOP had the opportunity to push for their removal in the last merit retention in 2006, but chose not to do so. Instead, the state Party waited eight years. Conveniently, the Florida GOP’s attack on the Supreme Court comes in the same year that the Koch’s right-wing Americans for Prosperity along with another conservative group, Restore Justice 2012, both launched private ad campaigns against the three justices.

The heads of the unions are just the latest people to come out against the Florida GOP executive committee and the special interest groups who are pounding the Supreme Court with negative ads. Two weeks ago, the Florida Bar released a scathing statement attacking the Florida GOP, Americans for Prosperity, and Restore Justice 2012. Last week, former Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer stated that the attacks on the Supreme Court by his own party were wrong and baseless. Although more and more people continue to speak out against this witch hunt, it hasn’t stopped Americans for Prosperity or Restore Justice 2012 from making large ad buys on TV to attack the Supreme Court. The choice has become a stark one: Should Floridians vote to remove justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and Fred Lewis, they will be voting for a politicized court and one that Rick Scott can use to pass an extremely conservative agenda. Should Floridians vote to retain the three justices, they will be voting for maintaining balance in the judiciary and keeping corruption out of the Supreme Court.

Merit Retention Turns Justice Into Politics

One of the largest pitfalls of merit retention is that it forces justices to become politicians. As a recent New York Times editorial points out, justices must now waste time actively campaigning and raising money. Without doing so, justices run the risk of sharing the same fate as Marsha Ternus, David Baker, and Michael Streit, the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were removed from office during the 2010 elections. The Iowa justices faced a flurry of attack ads from Super-PACs run by conservative fringe groups. Without campaigning and raising money, justices run the risk of being overwhelmed on the air again this fall.

The most glaring problem with merit retention is that it changes the way Supreme Courts vote. One of the main ideas behind the Supreme Court was that they would be committed to justice and immune from politics. However, the threat of removal from office has forced Supreme Courts to pander to voters and campaign donors while ignoring real justice. The Center for American Progress recently conducted a study that showed Supreme Courts in Alabama, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, are significantly more likely to rule in favor of corporations and big business. Between 2000 and 2010 the study showed that these Supreme Courts ruled in favor of corporations 71% of the time, a stunningly high percentage. The correlation to merit retention is evident as spending against justices has been extremely high in all of these states.

Supreme Court Justices, especially in Florida, have been on high alert since the 2010 results in Iowa. Even though the attempts to remove the justices are completely without merit, right-wing funding has put them in real danger. The Florida justices have had the deck stacked against them more so than any other Supreme Court in the country. The Florida group has done nothing worthy of being removed aside from being “too liberal.” Nonetheless, they have been forced to actively hit the campaign trail as a result of well funded attacks and lack of support from even their own governor, Rick Scott.

The push for the removal of Supreme Court justices is pushing the American legal system into dangerously uncharted waters. Right-wing ideologues such as Karl Rove, Rick Scott, and the Koch brothers have seemingly hijacked the legal system. While justices should be worried about the law they have now been forced to worry about their jobs. Even if efforts to remove justices fail, the far right will have still accomplished something: forcing Supreme Courts everywhere to keep politics in mind when they vote. It’s becoming clearer every day that merit retention is a poisonous path that is threatening to undermine our entire legal system.