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John Hopkins

Trying to Bully Lady Justice in Florida

» Written by // August 1, 2012 //


The New York Times has entered the Florida fray involving the merit retention race for Supreme Court Justices Pariente, Lewis and Quince. Their article, I think, sets forth the most succinct and accurate depiction of what has been happening in Florida’s merit retention race.

The concluding paragraph of the article contains perhaps the most chilling effects of what Tea Partiers and other groups are trying to accomplish:

“If the three justices lose their retention battle, it would give Mr. Scott three court vacancies to fill with his own judicial picks. It would also send a message of intimidation undermining judicial independence and impartiality — a price no Florida voter should be willing to pay.”

How have conservatives and Tea Party factions put Florida’s judicial system in danger? One of the things that certainly did not help is the fact that Justices Pariente, Lewis and Quince were so busy doing their jobs, they were “sloppy but innocuous” in using court staff to notarize documents needed to be filed with the Florida Division of elections in order to try and keep their jobs.

Although regularly done, the use of state personnel in campaigns is prohibited while they are in the employ of the state. So, governor Rick Scott seized upon the Justices innocuous use of court staff and ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to investigate the conduct. The FDLE “found no evidence that the judges abused their official positions – a conclusion seconded by the Florida state attorney, Willie Meggs. In fact, the last Chief Justice and his present successor both reportedly used court staff for notarizing campaign documents in their 2010 merit retention race.

Tea Party conservatives and a “right-wing legal policy group based in Georgia” filed a lawsuit against the Florida Secretary of State and the three justices. After governor Scott’s efforts with the FDLE were not rewarded, he had this to say about the Georgia groups lawsuit:

““According to FDLE findings, it appears using state employees to complete and file campaign forms and other documents are ‘common practice.’ Now this case is before the courts where a determination will be made as to whether this ‘common practice’ is legal.”

Apparently although (2) State of Florida agencies investigated and found no wrongdoing on the part of Justices Pariente, Quince or Lewis, that was insufficient for the governor’s needs.

What else has spurred some on in efforts to remove these justices? The conservative groups, such as Restore Justice 2012 and others, are singling out decisions in which the justices voted in ways in which these groups have disagreement. For example, as the Times put it:

“…they are being singled out for various rulings, including a decision in 2010 that blocked from the ballot a misleadingly worded constitutional amendment designed to permit the state to opt out of national health care reform.”

Tea Party bosses have realized the amount of control they could have over judges and courts if they can send an appropriately chilling message “undermining judicial independence and impartiality” to judges across the State of Florida that they can be replaced for simply doing their jobs.


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