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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Group takes aim at state Supreme Court justices



Using a decision that kept a vote on health care reform off the 2010 ballot as a rallying point, a conservative group is launching a campaign to unseat three Florida Supreme Court justices.

Jesse Phillips, a founder of the group Citizen2Citizen, is set to start the "Restore Justice 2012" campaign Monday evening at a meeting of the East Side Tea Party in Orlando.

For now, the group has its sites on Supreme Court justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis. The three are up for a merit retention vote in 2012. They were part of a 5-2 majority of justices that ruled a proposed Constitutional amendment crafted by state lawmakers to target  federal health care reform was too vague and struck it from the 2010 ballot.

Phillips describes the ruling as inappropriate "judicial activism." 

"When a super majority of our elected representatives vote to ask citizens a ballot question, the citizens should be asked that question," Phillips said. "They shouldn't only be asked questions the court likes."

But Mayanne Downs, president of the Florida Bar Association, said the judges should be evaluated on much more than one decision, and questioned the use of the term "judicial activism."

"As so often is the case in political matters, it has become a buzzword. It has become a phrase that describes a ruling they don’t like," she said. "Judges are supposed to follow the law. They’re not supposed to make up law and they don’t.  They follow the law. Where the law is unclear, they clarify it. That has to be done.”

Legislators this year again approved the Constitutional amendment, this time without the language the court found problematic. If voters approve it in 2012, it will prohibit laws similar to the "individual mandate," a key component of federal health care reform that requires people to buy insurance.

Phillips' group tried unsuccessfully in 2010 to unseat the other two Supreme Court justices -- Jorge Labarga and James Perry -- who ruled against the amendment. But that was only a six-week campaign, Phillips said. He predicted his group would have greater impact with more time to educate voters on the justices' rulings, particularly the one on what has been dubbed the "Health Care Freedom Act."

"That’s just the latest in a long series of activism," Phillips said. "And it's one that I think serves as a wake-up call for a lot of people who like the idea of having protection against individual mandates." 

Phillips said his group is likelty to expand its efforts beyond the Supreme Court and inform voters about decisions made by judges in lower courts who are also up for retention votes. 

"Finding information about judges and where they're coming from and their philosophies and decisions is a little bit hard for the average voter," Phillips said.



[Last modified: Monday, June 13, 2011 5:23pm]


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