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.

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.

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 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.

Florida Justices Seek to End Witch-hunt ASAP

Seeking to put a temporary end to the ludicrous witch-hunt mounted by ultra-conservatives, the three Florida Supreme Court Justices up for merit retention have sought to postpone depositions in the pending lawsuit against them. The lawsuit, which alleges that the justices broke state laws in filing election paperwork and seeks to remove them from the November ballot, is being fought by the conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation on behalf of two Florida citizens. The justices have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and have now filed a motion seeking a protective order that would halt discovery (the taking of depositions) until a judge rules on their motion to dismiss the case.

The Atlanta-based law firm wants to take 22 depositions, including the three justices, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, law clerks, judicial assistants, and others involved in the case. The justices’ attorneys said, “Plaintiffs’ demand to take 22 depositions prior to the court deciding the motion to dismiss is oppressive and unduly burdensome.” For a lawsuit that seems frivolous, given the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s recent decision to not file charges on the same case, it would certainly be unreasonable to waste the time of so many state employees on a case that might be struck down.

The campaign against the judges has frequently been blasted by legal experts, in influential Florida newspapers, and by organizations such as Defend Justice from Politics and the Florida Bar. It has been analyzed at face value as a brazen attack on the bench by political leaders, ideologues, and others who wish to repopulate the bench with more conservative justices. This is not the intended function of the merit retention process, and it is worried that a hijacking by partisans could threaten the rule of law in Florida and reverberate across the country.

According to Tallahassee.com, focus groups have indicated that approximately 9 out of 10 people don’t understand the merit retention process, and that many associate the term with teacher merit pay. Organizations such as Restore Justice 2012 and The Southeastern Legal Foundation are banking on this dearth of information and are using cryptic tactics to persuade voters to vote “no” on merit retention. Although the lawsuit against the justices may indeed be struck down, the campaign against their retention will only heat up as the vote inches closer. In an attempt to stave off this unreasonable barrage of misinformation and inflated partisan rhetoric, multiple organizations are seeking to educate Floridians on merit retention; including the Florida Bar. If the average Floridian understood the purpose of merit retention, the risk of hijacking by special interests would be greatly mitigated.

The Southeastern Legal Foundation, through this petty lawsuit, is harping on a small misstep by the justices in an effort to tarnish their image and convince voters to misuse the merit retention process as a way to reformulate the bench. This same conservative legal group also moved to disbar Bill Clinton, overturn campaign finance reform, and is a skeptic of global warming. The justices are right to seek a quick dismissal of the lawsuit and postpone the taking of depositions to minimize the damage that the Southeastern Legal Foundation is attempting to generate. Justices Lewis, Pariente, and Quince don’t deserve this irresponsible witch-hunt, and likely look forward to the day when they can escape the overwhelming political bedlam and return to what is really their job: judicial impartiality.

The Headline Grabs Continue as Lawsuit is Filed Against Justices

An assortment of right-wing groups has continued their assault on the Florida Supreme Court, this time filing a lawsuit against the three justices up for merit retention. The conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation (discussed below in “Merit Retention Sources to be Leery About”) has filed a lawsuit asking Secretary of State Ken Detzner to remove justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince from the ballot in November, and effectively from the bench. Their complaint is riddled with sensationalized assertions, representing the latest attempt by special interests to grab headlines in an attempt to inject politics into our judiciary.

The Georgia-based Southeastern Legal Foundation has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Lee County resident Bernard Long and Seminole County resident L. “Ron” Flores, claiming that the justices violated state law by using state employees to notarize election-related documents during office hours. The justices and many supporters claim that this is common practice; and election records show that four justices on the ballot in 2010 also had their paperwork notarized by court employees. Robin Rorapaugh, who has managed two gubernatorial races and two U.S. Senate Races, is heading the justices’ campaign against the constant mudslinging. Of the lawsuit, Rorapaugh stated: “This is clearly a headline hunt by the Southern Legal Foundation. Anyone can file false statements of facts and false statements of law in allegations just as this entity has in an organized attempt to besmirch the reputations of three Florida Supreme Court Justices.”

Thankfully, not everything is split along ideological lines. In this case, there are reasonable people from both sides of the aisle that are taking up arms to defend our independent judiciary. The group Defend Justice From Politics has been created with the goal of “protecting Florida’s Supreme Court from attacks by partisan politicians and special interests.” The group is headed by Miami businessman Stanley Tate, who also happens to be a staunch Republican. Tate succinctly states, “We cannot allow angry special interest groups or politicians to take over the Supreme Court in a blatant political power grab.” The group Justices at Stake, a nonpartisan campaign fighting for impartial courts, has joined the fight as well, featuring informational stories detailing Florida’s “political witch hunt.”

Governor Rick Scott has done nothing to quell the outrageous claims by these vocal minorities in Florida, instead choosing to flame the fires with his cryptic comments. First, the Tea Party-backed Scott ordered an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the judges’ actions. Next, when asked about whether he thought the judges had broken the law, Scott said “They should comply with the law. It’s the Supreme Court. You’d think they would comply with the law.” These see-through annotations are not doing anything to remove the assumption that the campaign against these justices is just a protracted effort by Scott and the Tea Party to fill the Florida Supreme Court with new justices that share their conservative principles. This politicization of the bench is a threat to the independence of Florida’s judiciary; and seeks to upend the concept of justice as we know it.

These efforts to politicize the bench will likely only increase as we inch closer to the election in November, but we can quell some of the misinformation by supporting efforts like Defend Justice From Politics, Justices at Stake, and the educational campaign by the Florida Bar. If Florida residents understand that merit retention is not in place to boot out judges for being “too liberal” or “too conservative,” we will maintain our vibrant impartial judiciary for years to come.

Merit Retention Sources to be Leery About

In this hyper-partisan world we live in, it is increasingly difficult to determine which news sources truly represent objective journalism. More often than not, news sources have become rostrums for each political extreme, sacrificing unbiased reporting for focused, ideological content. We live in a world where Fox News, now a virtual arm of the Republican Party, refers to their production as “Fair and Balanced” and the left-leaning MSNBC instead asserts that it “Lean(s) Forward.”

Nowhere is this distinction more evident than the contentious merit retention vote that is quickly approaching in Florida. In it, Florida Supreme Court Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis, and Peggy Quince will be up for merit retention, which means that voters will be given the option to vote “yes” to retain the judges or “no” to remove them. Judges are intended to be removed only if they remain no longer qualified for the job or fit to serve, not kicked out for political motives.

Yet that is the situation we face now, with various organizations and parties fighting to politicize the one part of government that must remain impartial to maintain a vibrant democracy. So how can one learn about the merit retention process without being swayed by the mysterious organizations and enigmatic people that claim to be dispensing educational material? To aid in this process, I have briefly described the organizations and characters that are providing the majority of the ruckus around merit retention. After reading, you’ll realize that the educational campaign by the Florida Bar is far and away the best supplier of unbiased, factual information about judicial retention.

Restore Justice 2012: Restore Justice is the organization that thus far has provided the largest, most organized opposition to the justices in the merit retention vote. Although they are masquerading as an organization trying to educate Florida voters on the justices and retention process, they have instead simply tried to convince Florida residents that the three Supreme Court justices should be voted out for what they call “judicial activism.” This same organization tried to unseat Justices Jorge Labarga and James Perry in 2010, but was unsuccessful. Despite their claims of impartiality, Restore Justice is designated as a 527 organization for political purposes, and has collected over $40,000 for their campaign.

Jesse Phillips: The president of Restore Justice, Inc, Jesse is one of the most outspoken and regular critics of the Florida Supreme Court justices. Jesse has described himself as a former youth pastor and is the Judicial Reform issue lead on the steering committee for the Tea Party Network, a collection of around 70 Tea Party groups around Florida. He is friends with Rep. Scott Plakon (R, Longwood), the legislator who has been a regular detractor of the Court and frivolously asked Gov. Rick Scott for an investigation into the filing of election paperwork by the three justices.

Sunshine State News: One of the newest web-based media creators on the scene in Florida, Sunshine State News has received a multitude of press for many of the wrong reasons. Among them are worries about transparency, as the company has not yet released information on its ownership and investors. According to the Tampa Bay Times, “a study completed last summer by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism ranks Sunshine as the least transparent news website in journalism’s new Internet-based landscape.” Self-described as “the only news organization in Florida with an editorial board that believes free-market, less-government solutions will prove successful,” the organization is unmistakably written by Tea-Party activists, for Tea-Party activists. Their regular claims alleging that “merit retention is a farce,” and “Florida has a higher rate of judicial activism than any other state” have been easily debunked on this blog and elsewhere.

Southeastern Legal Foundation: This conservative political advocacy organization from Georgia has contended, and likely will continue to claim, that the three Supreme Court justices are breaking the law by raising money to mount a campaign for merit retention. This claim is entirely untrue, as they are permitted to campaign and raise funds if they are presented with organized opposition (see Restore Justice 2012). The Georgia-based organization, headed by Shannon Goessling, also moved to disbar Bill Clinton and is a skeptic of global warming.