In days of old when knights were bold and gentlemen believed in honor…
In those days of old, if you were to wrong me and failed to pay proper recompense, we dueled…often to the death. Today, in our democracy, we have access to the courts for redress of our differences without you and I being forced to duel.
Our “founding fathers” (Washington, Jefferson, Adams) never expected that politics would become a vocation. They saw political service as the duty of gentlemen owed to their country. It was an honor bestowed to be allowed to represent the people in protecting them and in furthering the best interests of the country or state.
Unfortunately, politics has become a vocation and politicians have strayed from representing the people to efforts at garnering power. Today, in addition to the Florida legislature’s apparent need to legislate in the very best interests of their present constituents by passing legislation aimed at maximizing corporate profits, they have decided to take on the “balance of power” as well.
Our form of government is safe as long as the “balance of power” is maintained between the three branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. Our system provides for a workable, but delicate, set of checks and balances meant to prevent one branch from gaining too much power over any other branch.
The Florida legislature, or at least the majority in the House, believes they know better than the founding fathers or, perhaps, they are simply living out their political vocation. In any event, the legislature now deems it knows best how to structure the court system and has just passed a bill identified as CS/HJR 7111. In this bill, the legislature has decided to put upon the people of Florida a constitutional amendment to recreate the way in which the Florida Supreme Court is structured, the way in which it operates and, ultimately, the seat of power over the judicial branch.
But why? Legislators have postulated several reasons for why this amendment is needed.
They say that death penalty cases can be moved more quickly to execution. According to former Supreme Court Justice, Raoul Cantero, this is completely untrue:
Mr. Cantero agreed they can take years to navigate the justice system, “but very little of that time is in the Supreme Court,” he said. “It’s just not the case that the Supreme Court is holding them and not deciding them.”
The Tallahassee.com reported one legislator’s and one former Governor’s view on the legislation:
The legislator said he wants to improve the court’s efficiency, including dealing with death-penalty cases. But a bipartisan group of former justices, former and current judges, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and Florida Bar leaders spoke out Thursday saying those reasons are without merit.
The legislators also maintain that specialization is important. One House member pointed out that: “The civil side can take away your property and your money. The criminal side can take away your liberty and your life.” Well, yeah, but this ignores the balance the court needs to arrive at many of its decisions. Some decisions find their basis in a mix of civil and criminal law. In addition, the Supreme Court is a court of review. The Supreme Court largely decides cases based on procedural and constitutional history and law; those are their areas of specialization.
The bill passed by the house also provides for additional provisions that would effectively do nothing but allow for “court packing”. They would allow for the party with the most power to pack the court with “their people” and maintain that control for as long as eight years or more at a time. Again, not really keeping with the whole “balance of power” portions of the constitution.
In a time when politicians claim they want less government, lower taxes and less spending, this proposal is an unnecessary expenditure of money; since some have estimated that restructuring the court will likely add many millions of dollars of overhead to an already operating fund starved court system.
Let us look at a couple of issues behind the legislative and executive branch that could be the motivation for this desire to restructure the balance of government power.
Some of the legislators involved in this court restructuring tried to get a couple of constitutional amendments placed on the ballot during the last election season. The Supreme Court found those constitutional amendments did not comply with the law because the summaries did not reflect the full or true nature of what the actual amendment was meant to do.
For all amendments, the Supreme Court is required to approve the amendments to confirm their form is in compliance with the law before they can be placed on the ballot. Every amendment you read on a ballot has gone through this very same vetting by the Court. Each election season, amendments are approved and disapproved by the Supreme Court. The Court quite often finds amendments do not conform to the law and exclude them from the ballot.
So, you decide. Is this an effort at necessary restructuring to solve a real problem or are these efforts simply in search of a problem that really does not exist? Are the real goals for the proponents of this constitutional amendment bill to improve the efficiency and specialization of the Court or to simply improve their own ability to control the Court?