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Wayne Parsons
Wayne Parsons
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How do you feel about the Florida Supreme Court Justices’ retention elections?

2 comments

The politicians and the special interests and lobbyists that fund them are supposed to keep their hands off the judicial branch of government. That is how the American system works. The Judicial branch is there to check and balance the politicians. It does one other key thing that should be foremost in every citizen's mind: the judiciary protects the people and it can be characterized as the peoples' branch of government.

You see an individual who has no connections and no money and no political influence can ask an independant judge or a jury drawn at random from the citizenry, to review and decide an issue where they have been wronged. The big corporations and special interests own the Congress, the state legislatures and the executive branch of government. The politicians work in thoise branches and they know that with only 30% to 50% of the eligible voters voting in elections, they must ple4ase the special interests to stay in office. The people have no direct vote in the many issues facing legislators. There is no direct democracy in those two branches.

But in the courts citizens with no conflict of interest sit on juries and decide issues themselves. Politicians, lobbyists and big corporation don't like that and they sometiomes try to interfere with the peoples' branch of government. In Florida they are seeing this attack on judicial independence by a right wing corporate driven organization. The Miami Herald reports that:

The right-leaning organization, Restore Justice, which is linked to the Tea Party movement, targeted the justices after they voted with the 5-2 majority in a ruling that rejected a legislatively-backed constitutional amendment to allow the state to opt-out of federal health care reform because it failed to meet the state’s ballot requirements.

This year, the organization has started up again and is prepared to campaign against the remaining three justices in the opinion, each of which has twice before won merit retention approval.

So if corporate America or some other special interest doesn't like what a judge does they look for ways to attack the judge and get them removed from the court. People who do not understand basic civics as taught in high school do not understand that tampering with the independence of the judiciary is an attack on our democracy in America. The Tea Party, although supported by many well intentioned voters does seem to be well educated on basic civics. Their leaders like Paul Ryan talk about reducing government and then support federalization of laws, like tort law, that are matters for each state to deal with. Maybe in Ryan's case it is because he is the front man for big corporations and the lobbyist, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but we are seeing that true conservatives like Andrew Cochran and swinging the mainstream of the Republican Party and the conservative voters in America back to the sound Constitutional principles of small governement and state's rights.

In Florida, the system of judicial retentions has not resulted in removals in the past and was intended to give voters a way to remove a corrupt or incompetent jurist. It was not intended to provide a vehicle for the lobbyists to remove simple because they don't like the judge's decisions. And now in Florida the targeted Supreme Court Justices up for retention face a very difficult challenge because it is difficult for them to defend themselves as explained by the Miami Herald story:

But the justices have their hands tied. The ethics laws governing judges in Florida prohibit them from discussing their policy views, unlike candidates running for elected office, but those who launch an opposition campaign to defeat a judge can say whatever they want.

“They can’t explain how they have ruled in the past or how they may rule in the future,’’ Hawkins said. “The restrictions on what candidates for judicial office can say are severe and strict.”

But because of this system, the bar “believes the importance of impartial, balanced and accurate information is critical,’’ he said.

The goal of the merit retention election is to give voters an opportunity to assess the body of work done by the justices and determine if they continue to remain qualified for the job. It is not to police bad judges, Hawkins said. That job goes to the Judical Qualifications Commission, which reviews, removes and sanctions judges for bad behavior, of the impeachment process which allows the state Senate to remove a bad judge. Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2012/04/florida-bar-seeks-to-publicize-merit-retention-election-for-judges.html#storylink=cp

Others share my opinion as shown by the story in the Orlando Sentinel in "Drive to bounce justices threatens independence", May 5, 2012:

We have no objection to an investigation that'll settle the question. But the flap over the justices' paperwork shouldn't overshadow a broader principle at stake in the challenge they face this year to keep their jobs: judicial independence.

Florida's Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges are appointed by the governor in a nonpartisan, merit-based process. They normally come up for approval or rejection by voters every six years in retention elections. Voters properly consider if justices or judges are still fit to serve, not whether they've issued any rulings that offended politicians or interest groups. No justice or judge has lost his or her job since Florida began the merit system in the 1970s.

The Orlando Sentinal goes on to conclude that:

But bouncing the three justices from the high court as payback for that ruling or others would be an abuse of the retention process. Worse, it could make others still on the bench wary or even unwilling to issue controversial or unpopular rulings for fear of losing their jobs.

Floridians count on their courts to uphold the rule of law and stand up when needed to the other two branches of government, the governor and Legislature. If justices and judges start making decisions based on public opinion or political expediency instead of the law, Florida's democracy will be in trouble.

The attacks on these Florida Supreme Court Justices is an attack on Democracy. Like the midnight ride of Paul Revere I hope that Florida voters will stand up and be counted at the ballot box to tell the lobbyists, politicians, big corporations and special interests to keep their politics away from Florida courts. For more good reading on the subject, I suggest:

Resist special-interest purge, Palm Beach Post

Groups Targeting the Florida Supreme Court Just Like the Iowa Supreme Court, John Hopkins


2 Comments

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  1. Mike Bryant says:
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    I like retention elections better just because they also don’t also vote in their single interest lackey. I hate seeing good judges attacked because it is really a greedy attack on the consumer, but at least retention elections limit the damage.

  2. Joe Saunders says:
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    Thanks for a very insightful blog Wayne. We appreciate your concern for our judicial system in Florida and your contributions to justice for all nationwide.

    Keep up the great work.

    Aloha