- Wednesday, 31 October 2012
We Floridians are in immediate danger of losing the last and most important safeguard that the individual citizen has against the overwhelming power of government, special interest money, and political machinery – our independent and nonpartisan State Supreme Court.
Most Florida residents are unaware that on the November 6th ballot is an absolutely critical vote on the issue of merit retention as it relates to three of our sitting Florida Supreme Court justices. Merit retention was implemented in the 1970’s, after a huge scandal and public outcry about abuses that had occurred in the state courts by judges who were bribed and influenced by politicians and the money that finances them. To combat the political money machine, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring the adoption of a merit retention system for all appellate judges.
Every six years Florida appeals court judges and Supreme Court justices are placed on the voting ballot in nonpartisan elections that give voters a chance to oust judges who have somehow violated the judicial code of being impartial or who have become incompetent or unethical. The sole purpose of the merit retention system is to ensure citizens that we have a vehicle in place to preserve the integrity of our system of laws and our Democratic values.
Merit retention was NEVER intended and is NOT supposed to be a referendum on whether or not the politicians, insurance companies or big businesses agree with a particular judge’s decisions. So long as that judge is fair and impartial, he or she is serving in all of our best interests without being beholden to any particular cause or political or financial special interest group.
There is no room in our system of justice for the members of the judiciary to have to consider the political ramifications of their judicial rulings. To permit this would be inimical to the integrity of our justice system and ultimately destroy and sabotage its independence and the protection for each of us as citizens of this state and this country. This is your system as well as mine, and I ask you to do what is necessary to preserve and protect it.
This year, three Supreme Court justices: Justice Pariente, Justice Quince, and Justice Lewis, are up for the standard “merit retention” vote and have come under vicious attack from Governor Rick Scott and his political money machine. Scott sees this vote as an opportunity to stack the high Court with “special” judges of his own choosing who Scott and his politicos can expect to vote their way on social and legal issues. Scott has recently unleashed an unprecedented series of attacks on the three justices to try and oust them from the judicial system under the pretext of merit retention. This is an absolute perversion of the merit retention process and cannot be allowed, no matter what your individual political beliefs. Our courts MUST be allowed to remain impartial and the only duty that any judge should owe is to the Constitution.
Vote YES to retain all three justices so they will remain in office. Each of the challenged justices: Justice Pariente, Justice Quince, and Justice Lewis, are experienced, respected jurists who vote independently on the cases that come before them and are not dependent on the favor of any one politician or political party. The outcome of a case is a rule of law, it is not decided based on personal opinion or whether any one of us likes a particular ruling or not – it is the law based on our Constitution, and the application and protection of the Constitution to all citizens; this will all change in the foreseeable future if Governor Scott has his way on Nov.6th. If successful, the three embattled justices will be removed and Rick Scott will be given the right to appoint three new justices of his very own choosing, which will allow him to pack the Court with judges who support Scott’s political agenda without regard for the impartial rule of law. If successful in the Supreme Court, Scott’s next targets will no doubt be the appellate and circuit court judges on the local level, with whom the Governor and his cronies also do not agree.
Legislation is further trying to politicize the judiciary by proposing a change to Amendment 5 on the ballot. The summary is purposefully confusing and long, but simply put, the proposed amendment would allow the state Senate the power to confirm or deny future justices to the Florida Supreme Court, taking away the current process that is designed to reduce partisan political influence in the judicial selection. Rather than the current two-thirds vote, the newly proposed Amendment 5 would allow the Legislature to repeal court rules by a simple majority. There is a good reason the state Constitution gives the Florida Supreme Court the power to make rules on the merits of justice - they are the most familiar with court-related issues.
The merit retention vote is our last and only chance to safeguard our court system and protect ourselves from every politician and special interest group who thinks he or she can buy the courts if they spend enough money to protect their business interest. Lets work together to kill the spirit of those who seek to own it.
Vote “YES” to retain each of the three justices and “NO” to Amendment 5 on the upcoming election ballot.
For more in-depth information and FAQ, please visit Defend Justice from Politics and the Florida Bar’s website.
I ask you to be a champion of this effort, communicating with as many people as you possibly can, utilizing any and all outlets at your disposal – social media, emails to your databases, word-of-mouth, etc. – to spread the word and educate, so that they may, in turn, do the same.
Barry A. Cohen
The Barry A. Cohen Law Group