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Legislature seeks to saw off the judicial branch

Why do we need three branches of government, anyway? What an old-fashioned idea, that they should serve as a check and balance on each other!

Nope. If you get elected governor of Florida, or if you have the most votes in the Legislature, you should be able to do whatever you want. To the victor, you know.

And so not surprisingly, for its next trick, the Legislature this year intends to play 52-card pickup with the judicial branch of Florida's government.

Several ideas for "reforming" the courts were heard in Tallahassee last week and are moving right along. Some are dramatic. Some are unwise. Some are goofy. A couple, meh, maybe not so bad.

Fortunately, voters would have to approve most of these changes in 2012.

For starters, the Legislature proposes to split the seven-member Florida Supreme Court into two Supreme Courts of five members each, one for civil cases and the other criminal. The immediate effect would give Gov. Rick Scott three quick appointments that will suit him and the Legislature better than the current bunch.

Next, the Legislature proposes to end the last vestige of "merit selection" of Florida judges, and make the system completely political.

It used to be that committees made up of members of the public and the Florida Bar screened judicial nominees and sent a list of finalists to the governor to choose from.

But as soon as Florida had both a Republican Legislature and a Republican governor in Jeb Bush, lawmakers gave the governor more power over the nominating councils. The result was a series of nakedly political appointees by Bush, including the hacks on the 1st District Court of Appeal who stole that "Taj Mahal" courthouse from the taxpayers.

This year's Legislature proposes to finish the job by giving the governor total control of judicial nominations, cutting out the Bar and everybody else. For appeals judges, there would be no longer be screening at all — the governor could nominate anybody he wanted.

I laughed at this quote published by the House:

Nominations and appointments to the judicial branch of our government should not be effected (sic?) or influenced by third parties who do not have to answer to the citizens of Florida and this legislation simply codifies that principle into law.

No, heaven forbid that "third parties" such as the public itself, or anybody who knows anything about the law, should have a say in judicial selection!

Wait, there's more. Since we are getting rid of merit selection, the Legislature would require all Supreme Court and appeals judges to be approved by the state Senate.

Here is an ominous twist. The proposal gives the Senate six months, 180 days, after an appointment to decide whether to confirm a judge.

Every appeals judge in Florida would be on probation for half a year, subject to being fired if he or she ruled against the Legislature. And if you think that is paranoid, remember that the Senate performed exactly such an assassination last year, when it booted two new members of the Public Service Commission who had dared to vote against big electric rate hikes.

As one more cannonball (!) fired in the courts' direction, the Legislature wants to give itself final approval of all the rules of procedure, evidence and conduct that govern Florida's judicial branch.

Hey, it's not all bad. There's a single, delightful sentence deep in the text of the Legislature's bill splitting the Supreme Court in half:

The Supreme Court Building shall be at 2000 Drayton Drive, Tallahassee, Florida.

That's the address of the "Taj Mahal" and the 1st District appeals court. Presumably, by splitting the Supremes and moving them out there, the Legislature intends to evict those bums.

Overall, though, it is a grim business.

Two state Supreme Courts, newly packed with the governor's buddies. A totally political nominating system with no check on the governor's choices. Appeals judges subject to being removed on the spot if the Legislature doesn't like a ruling. The Legislature controlling the rules of evidence, of procedure, and operation of the judicial branch.

It is revolution. It is constitutional usurpation. It is practically a whole new form of government.

But I'll tell you what it ain't. It ain't "conservative."

Legislature seeks to saw off the judicial branch 03/19/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 20, 2011 2:35pm]

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