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Florida’s Highest Court is Under Political Attack

Three of Florida’s Supreme Court justices are up for merit retention, but out-of-state lobbyists and extreme political interests are working to oust the judges for political control of our courts. If successful, it would mean MONEY and POWER will influence our courts, rather than impartial understanding of the law. This un-American attack must be stopped! Merit retention, or voting to retain a judge based on his or her competent performance, has been part of the Florida judicial system since 1976. It calls for voters to make a simple “yes” or “no” decision to retain a judge at the appellate level, including the Florida Supreme Court. These are routine and normally attract little attention because the court is well-respected and has operated without scandal for decades. But something new is brewing this year. In an unprecedented political assault on our state’s highest court, an extreme arm of the Republican Party of Florida (and outside extremist conservative groups) is pushing to oust three highly-respected Florida Supreme Court justices…simply because they are not happy with a few of the decisions the judges have handed down. Spearheading this unethical grab for control of the courts is the group “Americans for Prosperity.” AFP was founded by the now-infamous billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, who have already successfully influenced the courts in Texas. Persuading voters to remove the three justices on the November ballot would enable Governor Scott to appoint the replacements and stack the court. This is the most serious attempt to compromise the Supreme Court’s independence since the corruption scandals of the early 1970s that resulted in the resignations of two justices and a reprimand of another. Most importantly, this should concern ALL Florida voters, regardless of political views. The main purpose of judges in our nation’s court system is to rely on impartial interpretations of the laws of the land. For that reason, it is illegal for Florida Supreme Court Justices to affiliate with any political party. That is what makes this power-grab such a threat to the legal rights of all Floridians. In fact, one of the justices, Peggy Quince, was supported by former governor, Jeb Bush, a Republican. Floridians should refuse to be intimidated by this attempt to politicize the state’s highest court, and we should retain Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. The justices are not running against each other, and they are not on the ballot because they did something wrong. Why Do the Justices deserve to be Retained? Chief Justice Lewis founded Justice Teaching, which has placed thousands of lawyers and judges in public schools to educate students in civic and legal issues. He has also won numerous awards for his work promoting diversity and court access to persons with disabilities. Justice Pariente works to improve the handling of cases involving families and children, and she was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 2008. Justice Quince was appointed to the court by both Lawton Chiles (a Democrat) and Governor-elect, Jeb Bush (a Republican), in 1998. She spent more than a decade in the State Attorney General’s office, gaining extensive experience handling death penalty cases. The reality is Republicans have been unhappy with the court because it has served as an important check on the heavy handedness by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature. Scott overstepped his authority last year by signing an executive order seizing control of the state rule-making process. Without checks and balances in all branches of government, we will hand the legal power over many to just a few. That is not what Florida or America stands for. On the merit retention questions for Florida Supreme Court Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara J. Pariente and Peggy A. Quince, vote yes and protect our civil justice system!