Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Opinion

Robes and rubes in Florida

We all know a so-called "activist judge" is a judge whose decision somebody disagrees with.

And by that standard, the bunch of sourpusses who would like to turn Florida into their own private tea party would like you to believe that three of the state's Supreme Court justices received their law degrees from the University of Ho Chi Minh and take their marching orders from the United Nations, Hugo Chavez and George Soros.

Restore Justice 2012 is the kangaroo court special interest group leading the charge to vote no on the retention of justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince with less intellectual honesty than the last time Rush Limbaugh drooled alone. And we shouldn't forget that the executive board of the Republican Party of Florida has also signed on to the campaign.

The dubious predicate for the assault on the three robes is a 2003 high court decision that overturned the conviction of a death row inmate on the grounds his trial attorney acted inappropriately. That ruling was eventually reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The misleading image of three Florida Supreme Court jurists siding with a heinous murderer was all Restore Justice 2012 and other prominent Republicans, such as outgoing House Speaker Dean Cannon, needed to conspire to remove Lewis, Pariente and Quince from the bench.

But the real reason for the campaign against the judges is that their removal would pave the way for Gov. Rick Scott to appoint their replacements, which could very well lead to the state's highest court populated by Archie Bunker, Thurston Howell III and Todd Aiken.

Critics of the judges, like Cannon, R-I'm Getting Vewry Angwy, were upset over rulings that prevented the Legislature from putting various proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot on the highly technical ground that they would mislead voters.

Enter the Federalist Society, a conservative think tank, which hired Elizabeth Price Foley, a constitutional law scholar at Florida International University, to review the decisions by Lewis, Pariente and Quince to determine if they really were unhinged, Mao-esque, "activist judges."

Quite the contrary. Foley concluded that while anyone might disagree with any judgment handed down from the bench, "There does not appear to be a pattern of unprincipled decision-making by any of the justices of the Florida Supreme Court."

As well, Foley added that those attempting to taint the reputations of the three judges "are going to have a hard time making that label stick."

As former Gov. Jeb Bush was so fond of saying when he occasionally channeled Scooby-Doo: "Rut-roh."

This wasn't the ACLU coming to the defense of Lewis, Pariente and Quince. One of the founding members of the Federalist Society is Robert Bork, who is so conservative he pays his mortgage with pelts. Some of its members have included current U.S. Supreme Court Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, all pinched, serious-minded folks no one would ever confuse with Monty Python.

To be sure, Foley's Federalist Society homework assignment certainly goes a long way toward making the Restore Justice 2012 propaganda campaign look like the petulant ideological power grab that it is.

And it should provide cover for other prominent Republicans to disavow the ham-handed anti-retention plotters. Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, incoming Senate President Don Gaetz and Scott should finally disavow the partisan attacks and stand up for the independence of the courts.

There's a famous story about the late Florida Justice Joe Boyd, who was once accused of being too mentally imbalanced to serve on the court. Boyd agreed to undergo a psychiatric exam, which he passed. From then on Boyd joked he was only Florida public official who had the documentation to prove he wasn't crazy.

By the same token, Lewis, Pariente and Quince have had their work examined by an independent legal scholar and have been found to be people of principle.

Can any of their critics make the same claim?

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