Thursday, June 21, 2018
Politics

John Romano: Wrong is wrong on the left or the right

Sometimes, outrage is justified. Sometimes, it is misplaced.

Under no circumstances should it be wielded based on convenience.

This brings us to the case of two state Supreme Court justices, and their views on political interference.

You may recall a year ago when the Republican Party of Florida joined a conservative political action committee in campaigning against the retention of three justices.

A whole lot of people on both sides of the political spectrum considered it a despicable blurring of lines. Merit retention for judges had been introduced in Florida a generation earlier and had helped prevent just this type of political nonsense.

The voters, thankfully, were paying attention. Despite the millions of dollars spent to block their retention, justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince all won additional six-year terms by comfortable margins.

So why, you ask, is it an issue again today?

Well, it seems the justices all had money left over in their campaign coffers and were spreading it around to legal organizations in the state.

Absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, a lot of money was donated to educational programs.

But, as the Sunshine State News service first reported, Quince and Pariente also combined to donate nearly $30,000 to Democracy at Stake, a group dedicated to preserving judicial impartiality.

Now this organization has undoubtedly done some good work. It successfully fought a Senate bill last year that would have given governors far too much authority in effectively rigging the judicial nominating process.

The group also campaigned on behalf of Quince, Pariente and Lewis, so the gratitude of the justices is understandable.

But when Gov. Rick Scott named Alan O. Forst to the 4th District Court of Appeal last week, Democracy at Stake blasted the governor for picking a candidate based on his conservative views and not his legal qualifications.

The point here is not whether Democracy at Stake was correct. (And, yes, I think the complaint was on target.) The point is Pariente and Quince donated money to a group that just interjected politics to the judicial process.

I'm sure Democracy at Stake would argue that the governor is the one who created the problem by naming an unqualified justice with extreme political views.

But isn't that a variation of the same argument used last year by the Republican Party when it fought the retention of the Supreme Court justices?

If you were outraged by an attempt to remove "activist" judges in 2012, shouldn't you be just as outraged by complaints of appointing a "conservative" judge in 2013?

"It is a complete attack on the system of merit selection and retention in the state and, whether it was the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, it would be equally destructive."

That's what Pariente said on the eve of the election last year. She could very well have said the same thing after Forst's selection last week.

Granted, most people agree Forst was chosen for his conservative credentials.

But the reality is this is what the voters said they wanted when they elected Scott in 2010. He made no secret of his conservative views, and he was simply exercising the same power previous governors enjoyed when it comes to selecting judges.

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