Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

A constitutional showdown over high-speed rail

Civics students, take note! We had a constitutional showdown in Florida last week involving all three branches of our government.

Two members of our state Legislature sued the governor, Rick Scott, because he had rejected $2.4 billion in federal money to build high-speed rail.

With dramatic speed, the judicial branch — the Florida Supreme Court — issued a slam-dunk, unanimous decision in favor of the governor.

Here's a key point. The legal question was not whether high-speed rail in Florida is a boondoggle or a great idea. It was not about whether Scott's decision was wise or idiotic.

The only question in front of the Supreme Court was whether Scott was within his powers to say no.

The two state senators who sued the governor (one Democrat, one Republican) argued that the Legislature had made high-speed rail the official policy of our state.

Didn't the Legislature create a rail agency in 2009? Didn't it pass a law declaring that the agency "shall," meaning must, pursue high-speed rail? Hadn't our previous governor already agreed to take the money?

But now, the senators' legal brief argued (with a hint of a sniff), a "newly elected governor" thinks he can undo it, "simply because he does not agree with the federal directives on how this money is to be spent."

To which the governor replied: yep.

We're not talking about money already appropriated by the Legislature, the governor's lawyer countered.

The fact that rail is the state's "policy" does not automatically translate into saying, "And, by the way, that automatically forces the governor to take any dough that the feds offer to us."

What was the Supreme Court supposed to do, the governor's lawyer asked? Order the Legislature to appropriate the money, then order the governor not to veto it? The first power belongs only to the Legislature, and the second only to the governor — and neither power belongs to the Supreme Court.

On Friday morning, less than 24 hours after the oral arguments, the court issued a one-page order that unanimously sided with the governor. The legislators "have not clearly demonstrated" any grounds, the court said.

Which might kill high-speed rail in Florida, unless supporters can come up with a hail Mary plan to let local governments and not the state take the money and run the show.

It might have been better if the Supreme Court had supplied a little bit of explanation. Surely they could have thrown in a sentence or two saying, "The law doesn't say Scott has to take the dough," or whatever the reason.

But in general, when asked to step into a political fight and to tell the governor how to be governor, the Supreme Court declined. Another fine example of judicial restraint.

A constitutional showdown over high-speed rail 03/05/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 6, 2011 1:23pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Mulberry teens, 15 and 18, killed in Plant City when car runs red light, FHP says


    Two Mulberry teens are dead and another is critically injured after their car collided with another vehicle in a Plant City intersection Thursday afternoon.

  2. GOP Montana win may be blip in Democrats' anti-Trump hopes


    BOZEMAN, Mont. — A Montana Republican businessman won the state's U.S. House seat after being charged with assaulting a reporter on the eve of the election, a victory that may temper Democrats' hopes for a massive anti-Trump wave next year.

    Republican Greg Gianforte speaks to supporters after being declared the winner at a election night party for Montana's special House election against Democrat Rob Quist at the Hilton Garden Inn on Thursday in Bozeman, Montana.
  3. More than half of Senate signs onto bill to end Cuba travel restrictions


    WASHINGTON - Fifty-five members of the Senate, including Bill Nelson, have endorsed legislation to fully lift restrictions on travel to Cuba.

  4. Militants attack Christians in Egypt, killing at least 28


    CAIRO — Masked militants riding in three SUVs opened fire Friday on a bus packed with Coptic Christians, including children, south of the Egyptian capital, killing at least 28 people and wounding 22, the Interior Ministry said.

  5. District finals won't count for Pasco County students


    Scores from the district finals Pasco County students took in recent weeks will not count toward their semester grades or grade-point averages, superintendent Kurt Browning said Friday.