Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

House bill would give Rick Scott more power to pick judges

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House approved a proposal Friday that gives Gov. Rick Scott the power to fire many of the people who help select the state's judges, a move Democrats say will lead to a more politicized judiciary.

If passed by the Senate, it would be the most significant change to the process by which court vacancies are filled since 2001, when the Legislature gave former Gov. Jeb Bush the power to appoint all nine members of these screening panels with some input from the Florida Bar.

As it works now, the process for choosing members of the state's 26 Judicial Nominating Commissions is "like a weird game of judicial hokeypokey," said sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

The nine-member commissions, called JNCs, consist of five members chosen by the governor and four chosen with input from the Florida Bar Board of Governors. The appointees are mostly lawyers, though the governor can choose no more than three non-lawyers per panel.

Their terms are four years.

Under Gaetz's bill, Scott and future governors would be able to remove and replace the five gubernatorial appointments, which comprise a majority. The governor's picks could serve indefinitely.

While circuit and county judges in Florida are elected by voters to six-year terms, the governor has the power to fill the vacant seats. The governor, with input from the JNC, appoints all state Supreme Court and appellate justices. Voters are asked whether to retain those appointees every six years.

Gaetz's measure, HB 971, passed 77-35.

Dissenting Democrats said the bill gives too much authority to the governor and oversteps the system of checks and balances.

"Today we might as well eulogize the courts and the legal system for what we are doing to them," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, a lawyer and Democrat from St. Petersburg.

But Gaetz, who is also a lawyer, said the process is already politicized within the "micropolitics of a local Bar association." Under his proposal, he said, voters can hold the governor more accountable.

"I think that if you ask most Floridians on Main Street they will be totally befuddled by the judicial appointments process," he said. "And when you have so much mystery surrounding a process, it erodes accountability."

"If I had my way I would support even bolder reform," he said.

Gaetz tried bolder last year, proposing to remove the Florida Bar from the process entirely. But the bill died in the Senate.

Included in Gaetz's bill is $500,000 for scholarships to women and minorities enrolled in Florida law schools who have expressed an interest in becoming a judge. This is a way to quell a repeated concern that the bench lacks diversity, Gaetz said.

The bill also eliminates the statewide nominating commission for judges of compensation claims, making these judges gubernatorial appointees selected from a list nominated by the judicial nominating commission for the First District Court of Appeal.

Katie Sanders can be reached at

House bill would give Rick Scott more power to pick judges 02/24/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 11:23pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs have chance to beat Vikings in their third stadium


    Here's a cool sign that the Bucs are getting up there as an NFL franchise: If Tampa Bay can win Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, it will mark the first time the Bucs have posted road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.

    TIMES ARCHIVES (2012) | Bucs RB Doug Martin runs during Tampa Bay's 36-17 win at the Vikings in 2012, in what was then called Mall of America Field. If Tampa Bay wins Sunday, it will mark the first time they have road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.
  2. Memorial for Snooty the manatee, postponed because of Irma, to be held Sunday


    A public memorial to celebrate the life of 69-year-old Snooty the manatee will be held at the South Florida Museum on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

    Snooty , the world's most celebrated manatee, begs for another slice of apple in his pool in the Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton in 2008. Snooty was 60 then. [Times 2008]
  3. Residents wade through a flooded road after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22, 2017. Because of the heavy rains brought by Maria, thousands of people were evacuated from Toa Baja after the municipal government opened the gates of the Rio La Plata Dam. [Associated Press]
  4. NFL commissioner, players' union angrily denounce Trump comments on national anthem


    SOMERSET, N.J. — The National Football League and its players' union on Saturday angrily denounced President Donald Trump for suggesting that owners fire players who kneel during the national …

    President Donald Trump walks off the stage after he speaks at campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala. [Associated Press]
  5. New earthquake, magnitude 6.1, shakes jittery Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A strong new earthquake shook Mexico on Saturday, causing new alarm in a country reeling from two still-more-powerful quakes this month that have killed nearly 400 people.

    Locals play pool at a venue in Mexico City's La Condesa neighborhood, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, four days after the 7.1 earthquake. The upscale Mexico City neighborhood was one of the hardest hit, with more than a half-dozen collapsed buildings in the immediate vicinity. The few Condesa residents who ventured out Friday night said they were anxious for relief from an anguishing week. [Associated Press]