Sunday, May 27, 2018
Politics

Republican Party of Florida works to remove state Supreme Court justices

TALLAHASSEE — The Republican Party of Florida waded into a traditionally apolitical fight Friday, announcing it will oppose the retention of three state Supreme Court justices on the November ballot.

In a statement released by its spokeswoman, the party said its executive board voted unanimously this week to oppose Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince in November's retention elections. The justices do not face opponents, but voters are asked every six years to vote yes or no on whether they should remain on the job.

The party statement singled out a 2003 case by the court as its main reason for the unprecedented decision to oppose the justices. In the case, Quince and Pariente voted with former Justices Harry Lee Anstead and Raoul Cantero to order a new trial for Joe Elton Nixon, who was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of Jeanne Bickner in Leon County, because of unfair legal representation. Lewis concurred in the result but dissented in the reasoning.

Nixon, who was convicted of tying Bickner to a tree with jumper cables and setting her on fire, argued during a lengthy appeals process that he never gave his attorney the authority to admit his guilt to the jury, violating his right to a fair trial.

The high court agreed with him in the 5-2 ruling but, in 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court voted unanimously to overturn that decision, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing the majority opinion. She concluded that Nixon had several opportunities to object to his lawyer's strategy but never did. Nixon remains on death row.

Supporters of the justices accused the state GOP of using the merit retention vote, and the case, as a subterfuge to try to seize control of the courts. If a majority of voters reject the justices, Republican Gov. Rick Scott will have an opportunity to appoint their replacements.

"The Republican Party has demonstrated with this decision that there are special interests in this state that not only want to control all three branches of government, they want to own all three branches of government," said Dick Batchelor, a former Democratic lawmaker now working with Defend Justice from Politics, an advocacy group. "The question for the public now is, do we want an independent judiciary, or do we want to surrender the sovereignty of the court to a political Legislature?''

The three justices have expected an aggressive assault against them since a conservative group, Restore Justice 2012, emerged this year with the goal of pushing the justices off the court. The justices have raised a combined total of nearly $1 million in their defense but, until now, had expected most of the opposition to come from outside groups, not from the Republican Party. Lewis and Pariente were appointed to the bench by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles. Quince was jointly appointed by the outgoing Chiles and incoming Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Many prominent Republican lawyers have opposed politicizing the merit retention vote. The most outspoken Republican has been Cantero, the former justice who now practices law in Miami. He was appointed to the bench by Bush and has said he believes the justices have done nothing to merit removal from office.

"My strong feeling is, if we start turning the merit retention process into a political vehicle, then we are turning the judiciary into another political branch of government, which the Founding Fathers of our country specifically intended to avoid," Cantero told reporters last week.

No sitting Supreme Court justice has lost a retention election.

The decision by the state GOP to enter the debate allows the party to use its fundraising heft to steer money into opposition campaigns. Party officials would not say how much money they are willing to devote to defeating the justices.

"We are not talking strategy," said Brian Burgess, a party spokesman.

Authors of the decades-old merit retention law said it was adopted in response to a system in which the Legislature became too cozy with the Supreme Court, forcing the impeachment and removal of corrupt judges.

"The announcement that the Republican Party is engaged in this effort would shock those wonderful Republican statesmen who helped create the merit selection and merit retention processes," said Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, former president of the American Bar Association who, as a former legislator, helped to craft the law in the early 1970s. "Surely we do not want to go back to the broken past."

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas

Comments
More LGBT issues loom as justices near wedding cake decision

More LGBT issues loom as justices near wedding cake decision

WASHINGTON — A flood of lawsuits over LGBT rights is making its way through courts and will continue, no matter the outcome in the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated decision in the case of a Colorado baker who would not create a wedding cake for a s...
Published: 05/26/18
Carlton: Sometimes taxpayers pay for not doing the right thing

Carlton: Sometimes taxpayers pay for not doing the right thing

I may have cracked the code. Found a way to sell doing the right thing. Discovered a method of persuasion in certain matters of fairness, conscience and the greater good.Like giving our fellow Americans a second chance.When morality-based arguments d...
Published: 05/26/18
North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

PUNGGYE-RI, North Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made good on his promise to demolish his country’s nuclear test site, which was formally closed in a series of huge explosions Thursday as a group of foreign journalists looked on. The explosi...
Published: 05/24/18
Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

President Donald Trump’s decision to block his Twitter followers for their political views is a violation of the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying that Trump’s effort to silence his critics is not permissible under the U.S. Con...
Published: 05/23/18
All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

TAMPA — All those public watch parties during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run? And how about the rally at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park with the big white Lightning logo spray-painted on the grass? You need police to prote...
Published: 05/23/18
Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Explain this to me: In the world of partisan politics, how is being an independent thinker a bad thing? When it comes to general elections, we seem to like rogues and mavericks. We want outsiders and swamp scrubbers. Folks appreciate a good finger-...
Published: 05/22/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18