Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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.

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