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.

Merit Retention Resources for Florida Voters

In a previous post, “Merit Retention Sources to be Leery About,” I outlined the groups that were mounting an opposition to the three Florida Supreme Court Justices up for merit retention and warned about their inflated rhetoric, questionable statistics, and their hyper-partisan politicking. Yet not all of the sources offering information on merit retention are worthless. In fact, there are a variety of entities that provide valuable information and authoritative perspectives on the issue. Some of these resources are outlined below:

The Florida Bar: Rightfully worried that special interests are attempting to take over the merit retention process and delude voters into making an uninformed decision, the Florida Bar has taken it upon itself to educate Floridians with a robust campaign called “The Vote’s in YOUR COURT.” Their website is information-rich, filled with succinct fact sheets, FAQ’s, Voting Guides, information on the justices, and academic journal articles on merit retention.

Respectable Newspapers and Journalists: As the campaign against the three Supreme Court Justices is entirely unwarranted and frivolous, there is no shortage of respectable publications that have written pieces detailing why Florida voters should not get swept up in the political tomfoolery.  These include quality articles by the New York Times, Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, the Financial News & Daily Record, Gavel Grab, The Ledger, News-Press, and many more.

Defend Justice from Politics: The nonpartisan group Defend Justice from Politics was created with the goal of “protecting Florida’s Supreme Court from attacks by partisan politicians and special interests.” The group is headed by prominent Miami businessman Stanley Tate, who happens to be a loyal Republican. Tate states, “We cannot allow angry special interest groups or politicians to take over the Supreme Court in a blatant political power grab.” This group’s website regularly posts articles about the issue and serves as a useful medium for constructive discourse about merit retention and its hijackers.

Informative Blogs: In addition to this blog, there are other publications that frame the Florida merit retention issue and analyze the actors and events in new and refreshing ways. A healthy dose of sources and points of view is the best way to become truly informed. As with all blogs, these should be read with a critical eye and should be corroborated by the reader or other sources, but they undoubtedly offer some interesting and insightful material. Some of these informational blogs include http://www.floridajustice.info/, http://hrrumph.com/, http://www.fairandimpartial.com/tag/merit-retention/, and http://www.thelawmatters.org/.

After a perusal of the quality information provided by all of these sources, it is easy to see how off-base the opponents of the three Florida Supreme Court justices are. The condemnation of their ideological attack on one of the most revered institutions in the country has been widespread, scathing, and bipartisan. With all of these sources striving to create an informed electorate, we can only hope that Justices Lewis, Pariente, and Quince won’t fall victim to the latest obstreperous attack by ultra-conservative ideologues.