Thursday, November 15, 2018

Florida Amendment 8 challenge stems from policy disagreement, not wording problems, secretary of state argues

A special counsel to the state Attorney General's Office contends that an effort to remove Amendment 8 from Florida's November ballot fails to meet the "heavy burden" required to interfere with the "sanctified" amendment process.

The League of Women Voters has argued that the proposal, which includes three education-related matters, has a misleading title and summary, and fails to inform voters of its true effects.

The amendment seeks to impose school board term limits, embed civics education in the constitution, and allow lawmakers to establish an alternate public school authorizer that is not subject to school board oversight.

Related coverage: Plaintiffs ask for summary judgment in Amendment 8 challenge 

"Amendment 8 suffers from none of these defects, and this Court should reject Plaintiffs' attempt to interfere with the amendment process, which attempt stems primarily from their disagreement with Amendment 8 as a matter of policy," wrote attorney Blaine H. Winship, representing the secretary of state's office.

Winship pointed to two "animating principles" governing amendments to the constitution.

First, he wrote, that the people have a sovereign right to amend the constitution, and quoted from precedent that stated the process should be limited "only by those instances where there is an entire failure to comply with a plain and essential requirement of the organic law in proposing the amendment."

Second, he continued, the judicial review of the process should be "extremely deferential." If any "reasonable theory" exists to back keeping a proposal on the ballot, it should remain, Winship argued, pointing to a separate precedent.

"Because the ballot title and summary for Amendment 8 provide ample notice to the voters using clear an unambiguous language, the Florida Electorate is entitled to vote on the amendment," Winship wrote.

Deeper into the motion, the defense touches upon the heated politics of the issues in the proposal.

Winship observes the constitution does not state how or by whom public schools are to be established. However, he continues, it gives "monopoly power" to school boards.

"That monopoly power — like all other aspects of public education — can be modified or eliminated per amendment of the constitution," it states. "This is the essence of a constitutional republic. And Amendment 8 proposes to do exactly that — if the voters agree."

The defense goes on to argue that the only misleading thing about this case is the plaintiffs' misrepresentation of what the amendment might do.

"Plaintiffs' attempt to look behind the actual language of the proposed amendment … by referring to statements made during the course of deliberations about the amendment, are outside the proper scope of the court's inquiry," the motion states.

See the defense motion here for more details.

Like the plaintiffs, the defendants have asked for summary judgment in their favor.  A hearing is scheduled before Leon County Judge John Cooper for 9:30 a.m. Friday.

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