TALLAHASSEE — Florida Supreme Court justices had sharp questions Thursday for both sides on whether the Legislature has the power to set state university tuition and fees rather than a board created to oversee the schools.
Two lower courts have ruled that power lies with the Legislature. However, former Gov. Bob Graham and other plaintiffs contend that a 2002 state constitutional amendment that established the Board of Governors transferred the power to set tuition to that new panel.
The governor appoints 14 of the board's 17 members. The state education commissioner and leaders of faculty and student associations automatically fill the other three seats.
Graham, a Democrat and former U.S. senator, led a petition campaign that put the amendment on the ballot with the aim of taking politics out of the State University System. That was after the Republican-led Legislature abolished an earlier board that opposed lawmakers' projects such as new law and medical schools. The amendment won approval from nearly 62 percent of voters.
Justice Barbara Pariente persistently asked why the amendment failed to specifically say it was moving tuition and fee authority from the Legislature to the Board of Governors, but Graham said he remained optimistic.
"Judges typically act as devil's advocate," he said. "They're asking the tough questions from the other point of view."
The Graham group's lawyer, Robin Gibson, responded to Pariente by saying it wasn't necessary to include such detail because the amendment gave the board full responsibility to manage the entire State University System.
Pariente, though, again raised the issue. She agreed every small element of the board's authority didn't need to be in the amendment but said tuition-setting "seems like not a small detail."
The court did not indicate when it would rule.