GOP Would Dump FL Judges; JAS Warns of Dangers

BULLETIN: In a statement, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said, “Americans deserve courts that answer to the law, not to party bosses.

“If judges can’t make hard calls based on the law, without looking over their shoulder at threats of political retaliation, it will become harder for them to uphold the Constitution and protect people’s rights.  Democrats and Republicans alike would do well to avoid injecting partisan politics into America‘s courtrooms.” 

The executive committee of the Republican Party of Florida has voted  its opposition to keeping three Florida Supreme Court justices on the bench for another term. The justices will appear on a retention (yes-or-no) ballot this fall.

Florida voters have never dumped a justice or judge in a retention election. An Associated Press article about the GOP executive committee action reported the latest news this way:

“The Florida Republican Party is putting politics back in state Supreme Court elections.”

A conservative group called Restore Justice 2012 has targeted the three justices, accusing them of judicial activism and taking issue with some of the court’s rulings.

Defenders of fair and impartial courts have warned that the retention elections were implemented for voters to pass on a judge’s qualifications and competence, and not to serve as a referendum on one or more rulings. The latter would inject politics into the courtroom, they say.

An Orlando Sentinel blog published this statement by the state GOP:

“This week, the RPOF executive board voted unanimously to oppose the retention of Supreme Court Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince.  While the collective evidence of judicial activism amassed by these three individuals is extensive, there is one egregious example that all Florida voters should bear in mind when they go to the polls on election day.  These three justices voted to set aside the death penalty for a man convicted of tying a woman to a tree with jumper cables and setting  her on fire.  The fact that the United States Supreme Court voted, unanimously, to throw out their legal opinion, raises serious questions as to their competence to understand the law and serve on the bench, and demonstrates that all three justices are too extreme not just for Florida, but for America, too.”

According to the blog, it was the first time that a political party adopted a stance on retention of three justices since retention elections were approved more than four decades ago.

If any of the justices were removed, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, would replace them by appointment.

Iowa is another state where an organized drive seeks to remove a high court justice this year. Iowa’s Republican chairman called this summer for the jurist’s ouster (see Gavel Grab). Two years earlier, the GOP had not taken any formal role when conservatives successfully mounted a campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices over a controversial ruling that permitted same-sex couples to marry.

To learn more about the retention election in Florida, see these earlier Gavel Grab posts.

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