Merit retention is a most serious issue in Florida. The Executive Committee of the Florida Republican Party decided to actively oppose the merit retention of Justices Pariente, Quince and Lewis. Their plan has been exposed and that’s good news for Floridians. Florida voters should know that many perceive the GOP position on merit retention to be an “end run” effort to accomplish what the Republican leadership of Florida was unable to do in the 2011 legislative session. In that year, Republican House Speaker Dean Cannon and Republican Governor Rick Scott made an unsuccessful attempt to “reform” the Florida Supreme Court. Had they been successful Gov. Scott would have gained virtual control over the highest court in the state. Fortunately, that effort failed as the people of Florida won that round.
The Florida Senate (including many Republicans) realized this court-packing effort was not in the best interests of their constituents – the citizens of the State of Florida – and killed the legislation. The Senators understood the constitutional principle of “separation of powers” and recognized the judiciary as an independent and co-equal branch of state government in Florida.
Now many perceive the GOP’s position on merit retention to be another attempt to restructure Florida’s Supreme Court by targeting three Justices on the November ballot for a merit retention vote. Unfortunately for the three Justices, “merit retention” in this type election has nothing to do with their character, their judicial fitness, their diligence or their following and applying the rule of law. The criteria for retention is supposed to be based on the above criteria and whether the Justices have remained impartial, ethical and qualified, not whether voters or any political party disagree with some of their opinions. Many feel the real reason these Justices are being opposed is purely political. That surely seems to be the case.
Justices Pariente, Quince and Lewis participated in a ruling against a ballot issue drafted by the Republican legislature and the Court has cases pending before it which concern public pensions and privatizing prisons which are of great interest to some in the Republican Party. Many believe the Governor and the Executive Committee of the Republican Party of Florida are attempting to intimidate the Court on matters before it and are attempting to remove those Justices and stack the Court to protect and promote their political agenda. Interestingly, according to reports, the majority of Republicans in Florida don’t support the Republican Party Executive Committee’s current and public stance on merit retention concerning these fine jurists.
Legal organizations and newspaper editorial departments all over the state have opposed the unprecedented action taken by the GOP. The merit retention process and the tenets upon which it was founded — a fair, impartial and depoliticized judiciary — must be preserved. The current movement by the GOP to remove three highly-qualified Justices from Florida’s Supreme Court is wrong. Floridians must go to the polls on Tuesday, November 6th and vote to retain three good and qualified justices. It should be noted that, according to studies, 30% of those voting in the Presidential election don’t vote on the merit retention portion of the ballot. Hopefully, that won’t be the case this time. Independent judges are necessary if the judicial system of any state is to work properly. Hopefully, the GOP efforts in Florida will fail.
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