Former Supreme Court justice lobbying Senators to reject court overhaul
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero is in Tallahassee today to persuade Republican Senators to reject a House proposal to expand and split the Supreme Court into criminal and civil divisions, and cut the Florida Bar out of the judicial nominating process. The overhaul of the court is a top priority for House Speaker Dean Cannon, and it has become a bargaining chip in negotiations between the House and Senate.
That rankles Cantero.
"I don't think the judiciary or judicial independence should be subject to bartering in negotiations," he said.
Judges and attorneys throughout the state have panned the proposed changes to the court. After unveiling the plan, Cannon and supporters said it was necessary for efficiency. Cantero says the court has no efficiency issues.
"The Florida Supreme Court in particular is operating very efficiently right now. Its case load has decreased every year or just about every year since 2001. It's now at almost half the caseload it was 10 years ago. It's gone from about 1,500 cases to 881," he said. "It's ironic that the legislature wants to add more Supreme Court justices when that is not necessary based on their work load, but does not want to fund trial court judges who are severly overworked."
Democrats have charged that Cannon's proposal is all about trying to stack the court in advance of redistricting. Cannon denies that.
But it's hard to wholly reject the notion that there's a political underpinning considering Cannon's inaugural remarks as House speaker. At that time, he said the five justices who rejected three proposed Constitutional amendments that the Republican-led legislature wanted on the November 2010 ballot "demolished" the work of the legislature. "Is it the role of the judicial branch to decide political questions?" he asked. He suggested Florida's judicial branch is among "threats to our liberties."
Asked if he thought Cannon was on a one-man mission to remake the court, Cantero said: "I don't understand that concept. I've never been a politician. I'm just a lawyer, a former judge and come from a very different mindset. But I do have confidence that some senators are going to take leadership positions and come and say what everybody knows, that this is totally unnecessary, and vote on the merits of the proposal."
Asked if he thought whether regardless of the outcome, the courts would in the future exercise more caution when weighing legislative matters, he said, he hoped the court would never "be swayed either be fear or retaliation in making its decisions."