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.

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.

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.

Florida Republicans Join the Merit Retention Fray

The fight to remove Florida state Supreme Court justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and Fred Lewis has officially entered the political arena. While the assault on the judicial branch had resembled a political campaign, the Florida Republican party has officially made it one. Last Friday, the executive committee of Florida’s Republican Party told their constituents that they should vote to reject the three justices up for retention, according to the Florida Current. While Lenny Curry, the Florida GOP chairman, denied the decision was political, it has become clear that politics is absolutely at the root of it.

The republicans have cited “judicial activism” as their reasoning for recommending voters to remove the justices. The committee’s evidence for judicial activism comes from a death penalty ruling that the court made, ordering a retrial for Joe Elton Nixon. Curry and his committee’s reasoning, however, lacks logic as the Florida Supreme Court ruled for Nixon’s retrial in 2003, meaning there has already been a chance for these justices to be removed. Additionally, after the United States Supreme Court sent Nixon’s case back to Florida for reconsideration, the Supreme Court changed their earlier ruling and held up his initial conviction and sentence. As the handling of the Nixon case clearly cannot be seen as judicial activism, which leaves only one answer as to why the Executive Committee recommended the removal of justices: politics.

Unlike Restore Justice 2012, which perhaps you could argue lack the intellectual capital to understand the point of the Supreme Court, the Republican Executive Committee are made up of people who should know better. While Curry denied this when asked, it has become painfully clear that the committee and other state republican officials would like to see the justices removed so that Governor Rick Scott will be able to appoint three new conservative justices. If Rick Scott were to be able to appoint new justices, it would alter the judicial landscape in Florida. Laws would be based on how conservative they are or aren’t, rather than whether a given law abides with the constitution.

“If the Republican Party wants to insert itself into the judiciary, it’s a colossal mistake,” stated Sandy D’Alemberte, a Tallahassee lawyer and former president of the American Bar Association. The removal of the Florida justices has the potential to forever alter the judicial system in Florida, which in turn, could set the stage for negative change throughout the country. While it’s hard to quantify the effects of the removal of the justices on the national level, it’s not hard to see what the result would be here in Florida: A shift towards corporations and the far right, where the governor already resides. Additionally, justices Quince, Lewis, and Pariente’s removal would turn the judicial branch into an arm of the executive branch. Justices will be forced to pander to the masses instead of impartially interpret the laws set forth in the Florida Constitution. When one takes into consideration all of the facts surrounding the possible removal of the three justices, it’s not hard to see why Floridians should vote to retain Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and Fred Lewis.

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.

New Florida Poll Indicates Significant Support for Supreme Court Retention

A new Florida poll shows the Florida state Supreme Court getting an overwhelming vote of confidence from the Florida bar, according to the Herald. The poll asked bar members about their support of the three Supreme Court justices up for retention, as well as 15 appellate court judges. The poll showed the Supreme Court justices with an average approval of 90 percent while the 15 appellate judges received approval ratings ranging from 76 to 94 percent. The poll could be a useful campaign tool for the Supreme Court justices in their quest to retain their seats.

The poll is yet another indication that the witch hunt to throw out the justices Lewis, Pariente, and Quince is ridiculous. The fact that 7,857 lawyers participated in the poll gives the justices something significant to hang their hats on in the two months leading up to election day. The poll’s significance is derived from the fact that lawyers by nature are better evaluators of a Supreme Court’s performance than the average Florida resident. For the Florida Supreme Court, this as strong an endorsement as they could have hoped to land, as no attack ad can discredit the opinions of close to 8,000 lawyers. The poll also validates what pundits have been saying for months now: Restore Justice 2012’s efforts are being fueled by special interests rather than by poor performance by the justices.

The point of the Supreme Court is to interpret the law as set forth in the Constitution in order to maintain a system of checks and balances. Supreme Court justices are not supposed to make decisions based on being a liberal or conservative, but rather based on what the law says and their interpretation of it. Restore Justice 2012, however, feels differently; they are trying to undermine the Constitution and the very fabric America was built from by trying to remove justices Quince, Pariente, and Lewis. Restore Justice 2012 hopes to have Rick Scott appoint three new justices who will disregard the Constitution and make decisions based on ideology and corporate America.

The stakes are higher than most Floridians realize. Should Restore Justice 2012 and the Tea Party get their way, it will allow Governor Scott and the conservative legislature to do pretty much whatever they want. Governor Scott would be able to pass pretty much any law or amendment regardless of how radical it is because he will have three justices who he knows will support him. Should Restore Justice 2012 get their way, it will reshape the judicial system and allow Governor Scott to turn Florida into his personal playground. Voters should look at this poll and think long and hard before deciding to cast a vote against retention.

The bar poll makes it clear that the Supreme Court have not done anything worth being thrown out for. The poll targeted the most knowledgeable people in the state in regard to the judicial system, and they overwhelmingly agree that all three justices should be retained. Whether or not to retain the Supreme Court justices shouldn’t be an issue of politics, but rather an issue of values and integrity. Should the justices be removed, it will undermine the integrity of the Florida judicial system, as well as the values set forth in the state and national Constitutions. Checks and balances were created to regulate the political system. By allowing Rick Scott to appoint three new justices those regulations will be completely gone. Come November, Floridians need to stand up to the Governor and special interests and vote to retain justices Pariente, Quince, and Lewis, as well as the integrity of the Florida judicial system.

Florida Bar Presidents Slam Smear Campaign

23 former Florida Bar presidents recently signed a joint resolution supporting the retention of Supreme Court Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and Fred Lewis. The former Bar presidents believe, like many other pundits, that the effort being made by Restore Justice 2012 to kick out the justices is fundamentally wrong. The joint resolution points out that this witch hunt politicizes justices, precisely what the state of Florida was trying to avoid when merit retention was created. The resolution also shows concern on behalf of the Florida Bar presidents that the public will vote not to retain the current Supreme Court justices without being properly informed.

The resolution discusses in detail the reason for merit retention and the reason this Supreme Court should stay intact. “We are concerned that the public has forgotten or is unaware of how the use of Judicial Nominating Commissions along with Merit Retention and Selection of appellate judges and non­ partisan elections has helped to give Florida one of the best judicial systems in the nation,” the resolution reads. Merit retention was not created to measure justice performance, it was created to prevent justice corruption. Restore Justice 2012 has disputed this and are campaigning purely against justice performance.

Part of the marketing plan of Restore Justice 2012 was the creation of a scorecard. The score card lists six groups: Homeowners’ Rights, Patients’ Rights, Education, Right To Vote, Criminal Justice, and Junk Lawsuits. The scorecard shows all three justices failing in every category. However the scorecard does not tell the whole story: that the justices’ jobs are to protect the constitution. Restore Justice 2012 gives the justices failing grades not because they violated the Florida State or United States Constitutions, but because they refused to conform to a right wing ideology. The push to throw out the justices is being made so that Governor Rick Scott can appoint three new right wing justices who will govern based on what the far right and special interests want.

The choice come November is a stark one for Floridians. Keep the justice system fair and honest, or allow new justices to be appointed who will disregard the constitution in favor of their own political interests. Should Justices Pariente, Quince, and Lewis be removed from office, a dangerous precedent will be set. The corruption in the Florida judicial system which has been dormant for the last 30+ years will be awoken as justices will have to pander to the whims of politicians in order to keep their jobs. In order to protect their rights, constitution, and justice system, Floridians need to stand up to the corporate money backing this smear campaign and retain their Supreme Court justices.

Florida Supreme Court Justices Kick Off Their First Campaign

Three members of the Florida state Supreme Court have begun to hit the campaign trail to try and solidify their standing for November’s election. Justice Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and Fred Lewis are all on the November voting ballot for merit retention. The campaigning is unheard of by a state Supreme Court, almost as unheard of as the circumstances surrounding the November ballot. While there has never been a Florida justice removed from the Supreme Court before, that could very well change this year.

The three Florida justices up for merit retention have unfortunately found themselves facing a situation unlike anything that’s ever been seen in Florida before: A swath of special interest groups are actively mounting an advertising campaign to have the three justices removed. In light of this opposition, the Florida Supreme Court justices have begun to campaign around Florida. Their goal is to educate the electorate about what merit retention is and about their own records. The justices are trying to inform people on the importance of excluding politics from the Supreme Court. The justices are meeting with everyone ranging from regular residents to newspaper outlets.

The position the justices have been put in is a precarious one. In order to keep their jobs, they are being forced to tread a fine line between actively campaigning and undermining the Florida judicial system. Of course, the upheaval of the legal system could be completely avoided if the justices were left to do their job. Unfortunately a technicality, merit retention, has allowed special interest groups to pour money into races against judges. These special interest groups are trying to force the justices into voting how the people want, rather than voting based on the constitution they were sworn to uphold.

Ironically, the merit system was created to remove politics from the Supreme Court. Lawmakers believed that justices would be more likely to be impartial if they didn’t have to worry about running against another candidate. Until the last couple of years, the system has operated as smoothly as it was planned, until special interests and super PACs found a way to get the three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010. What’s at stake this November is more than just the positions of three justices, it’s also the role of the legal system, constitution, and politics in Florida. Should Florida’s Supreme Court members be removed a dangerous precedent will be set as justices may start pandering to special interests and lobbyists just to keep their jobs.

As November gets closer you can expect to see much more of your Supreme Court justices than you ever have before. They will in all likelihood stay in the public eye as they try to fight off smear campaigns, right wing special interest groups pouring ungodly sums of money into the race, and even their own governor. For the first time the Florida Supreme Court is being forced to actively campaign. The only way to stop this witch hunt and maintain the strength of the legal system is to make sure that all three justices are retained.

Florida Judge Dismisses Frivolous Lawsuit against Justices

A Florida Circuit Judge has dismissed a lawsuit attempting to remove Justices Peggy Quince, R. Fred Lewis, and Barbara Pariente from the November merit retention ballot, determining that the two Florida voters did not have “standing,” or the legal right to sue. The lawsuit was brought by the conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF), which argued on behalf of two Floridians that the justices should be removed from the ballot for using state employees to notarize election paperwork. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) had previously concluded that it would not press charges on the same issue, saying that “the law does not concern itself with trifles.”

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis said that the case was without merit because the two Florida citizens could not prove that they were personally harmed by the justices remaining on the ballot. Southeastern Legal Foundation lawyer Shannon Goessling immediately announced that they would appeal the case and take it as far as they could, including the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. Ironically, Goessling said that the justices “flout the law with impunity,” even though that is precisely what her Tea Party-backed organization has been accused of doing for years. Knowing that an appeal was likely imminent, Judge Lewis said, “We’ll let the district court of appeal decide whether I’m right or not.”

The justices’ attorneys argued four different claims against the suit. First, those bringing the lawsuit needed to prove harm that was not shared by all of Florida’s taxpayers generally. Second, the circuit court was not the correct venue to seek remedy, as these issues are meant to be decided by the Judicial Qualifications Commission and Florida Elections Commission. Third, the justices did not break any state laws, even if the lawsuit was allowed to continue and all facts of the case were agreed upon. Fourth, the lawyers argued that even if they were found guilty of violating state law, the proper legal punishment would not be to remove them from the November ballot. Although Judge Lewis dismissed the lawsuit on the fact that the voters did not have “standing,” the multitude of arguments against this lawsuit helps indicate how ludicrous this lawsuit truly was.

Although it never should have been brought in the first place, this frivolous lawsuit is illustrative of the contentious tactics that conservative special interests have taken in order to smear the names of three of Florida’s most respected legal figures. It has become clear that instead of educational campaigns or constructive discourse on merit retention, the Tea Party and similar groups are content with mudslinging and inflated hyperbole. Although the dismissal of this ridiculous lawsuit is important in restoring normalcy to Florida’s legal system, it would be surprising if Restore Justice 2012 and other hyper-partisan groups did not have other similar tricks up their sleeve. A November vote, and an end to this political firestorm, cannot come soon enough.