Who wants to go to a sporting event, where it is predetermined which team wins and loses? Imagine a baseball game where a select group of people get together behind closed doors, and decide the score before the first pitch is thrown. Such a “bought and paid for” game is not fair. While people may root for their home team, an impartial umpire must call the shots. Our judiciary is not any different. Just as you can’t have the same person act as coach and referee, you can’t have a judge spearheaded by special interests make the law.
Restore Justice 2012, a conservative grass-roots group, takes an extremely dangerous stance on justice. The pitch of this ultra-right wing movement is that “if we don’t like the way you vote, we will unseat you.” Unlike the United States Supreme Court, the seven justices on the Florida Supreme Court do not have lifetime appointments; two years after they are named to the court by the governor, they are up for retention or removal by voters. After that, they face voters every six years in what is called merit retention.
This year, three justices are up for retention in November: Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. Since their appointment by Democratic Governor, Lawton Chiles, these individuals have dedicated their lives to the judiciary and justice. However, Restore Justice 2012, and its executive communications director, Jesse Phillips, is going to bat this November to unseat these judges from the bench. The group contends that the judiciary should be controlled by one party, the Republicans, and are throwing money and resources into getting their single issue conservative players on base.
The intent of merit retention voting is to ensure a bench of competent, ethical, law abiding decision-makers. It is not designed to unseat justices because one does not like the way a justice votes on a particular issue. In fact, the day that merit retention is used for this purpose is the day we cease to have an independent judiciary. Everyday our justices are faced with a huge dilemma: Do we do what’s right by our constitution? Or do we do what’s popular? Unfortunately, groups, like Restore Justice 2012, continue to place justices in fear of voting for what’s right.
Beware! Groups like Restore Justice 2012 hide behind words like justice and democracy. However, their goal is simple; unseat judges that will follow the law and replace them with ones that will vote according to the political philosophy of those in power at the time.
The November election will be an historic one, where the three justices must give their all just to stay in the game. However, it will be the voters who ultimately decide whether Justice Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince will be able to continue providing a balanced playing field.