TALLAHASSEE — No jurist has ever lost a yes-no retention vote in Florida, but this year conservative and tea party activists are trying to change that by targeting a pair of Supreme Court justices in a low-key campaign relying on news releases, word-of-mouth and websites.
There's little, though, the four justices and 27 appeal court judges who are up for retention on Nov. 2 can do in terms of campaigning due to restrictions in judicial canons unless they file declarations saying they've got opposition and describing it. None has done so yet.
"We're like sitting ducks," said Supreme Court Justice James Perry, who is being targeted by a Central Florida group called Citizen2Citizen along with Justice Jorge Labarga.
If voters should reject a justice or a judge on one of Florida's five district courts of appeal, the governor would appoint a replacement. That hasn't happened since merit-retention began in 1978.
Citizen2Citizen has singled out Perry and Labarga because they were part of the majority in a 5-2 ruling Aug. 31 that removed a proposed state constitutional amendment on health care from the ballot.
Amendment 9, offered by the Republican-controlled Legislature, would have given voters a chance to voice opposition to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. It would have prohibited government requirements to buy health insurance and the imposition of penalties for failing to do so, but sponsors acknowledged the measure couldn't override federal law.
Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Ricky Polston, both also up for retention votes, dissented. So far they haven't drawn organized opposition.
One of Amendment 9's prime sponsors, Sen. Carey Baker of Eustis, also has written a letter to fellow Republicans urging them to reject Perry and Labarga because they "have time-and-again exceeded their authority and our trust in creating new laws from the bench."
Citizen2Citizen is posting videos and text opposing the two justices on its website, those of other conservative and tea party groups and YouTube and social media sites.
"It's primarily a grass roots effort," said Citizen2Citizen founder Jessie Phillips, a youth pastor at a nondenominational church in Casselberry. "We've got some fliers printed up. We just don't have any funding."
Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Canady and Polston in 2008. The two conservatives are often in dissent in the court's opinions. Both were in the minority in 5-2 decisions that also removed two other amendments proposed by the Legislature this year. One would have given the Legislature a stronger hand in congressional and state House and Senate redistricting. The other would have given some home buyers an extra property tax exemption.
Each Supreme Court justice was favored for retention by at least 85 percent in the bar survey.