Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Opinion

Keep politics out of the judiciary

Keeping politics out of our court system is absolutely crucial to maintaining a fair and impartial judiciary.

As Floridians who are past presidents of the American Bar Association, the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world, we believe when our courts are attacked unjustly, we must step up and defend them in order to protect the very foundation of our system. We must prevent the justice system from breaking down and discourage politics from playing a role in decisions affecting the structure of our courts.

With the upcoming merit retention election in Florida receiving national attention, and politics weighing in on what voters should do in November, we should remember why the system was put in place and the role it serves to protect the rights of everyone seeking justice before the court.

With its responsibility to uphold the administration of justice, the Florida Bar is educating voters on the judicial merit retention and selection process through a statewide education program, "The Vote's In Your Court" judicial merit retention.

Know the facts. The program, which was launched earlier this year, is educating Florida voters about the history of merit retention, providing information and resources for voters to learn more about judges and justices up for merit retention this year, and is encouraging Floridians to make an educated decision at the polls on Nov. 6.

This merit selection and retention system is our state's best protection when it comes to promoting an impartial judiciary and one that ensures that the most qualified individuals will serve on our courts. Judicial candidates are thoroughly screened and are recommended based solely on the merits of each applicant. Applicants are judged on a variety of criteria including but not limited to professional qualifications, character, maturity, integrity, experience, intellect, temperament, capacity for growth and other characteristics necessary to perform the duties of the office.

Three to six potential nominees are presented by the Judicial Nominating Commission to the governor, who makes the final selection. The merit retention process in the judicial system strives to ensure Florida citizens are being served by judges of the utmost quality and integrity, and the merit selection and retention processes have proven their value for more than 40 years.

It is extremely important that we respect the role judges and justices play in our democracy. These officials serve as the voice of the law, and should not be swayed by political pressure or improper influence.

With the current system of merit retention, we as Floridians can be sure that there will be no politicians or special interest groups keeping judges or justices under their thumbs. We can feel confident in the rulings of our courts. But we must do our part to cast educated votes in this upcoming merit retention election.

The authors are all past presidents of the American Bar Association: William Reece Smith Jr. (1980-81), Martha W. Barnett (2000-01), Sandy D'Alemberte (1991-92) and Stephen N. Zack (2010-11). They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Comments

‘Happy hour’ tax cuts may result in hangovers

Evidence is mounting that the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package enacted in December by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump was a bad idea, not only for the long-run health of the economy but for the short-term political prospects of the ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18