Friday, January 19, 2018
Editorials

A blatant bid to politicize the courts

It's understandable why Gov. Rick Scott and his Republican allies have no love for the courts. After all, their batting average is pretty low in trying to overturn laws they don't like and defending their own extreme lawmaking. But the state Republican Party's unprecedented call for voters to remove three Florida Supreme Court justices is a frontal assault on the judicial branch for no reason other than political intimidation. Reasonable Republicans ought to speak out against this attack on the courts and support the nonpartisan merit retention process, and all Florida voters should stand up for an independent judiciary.

Supreme Court justices appear on the ballot every six years as part of the merit retention process, and voters cast a "yes" vote to retain them or a "no" vote to remove them. Three justices are on the November ballot: R. Fred Lewis and Barbara J. Pariente, who were appointed by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles; and Peggy A. Quince, who was jointly appointed by Chiles and Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. The merit retention process is about whether the justices are impartial, ethical and qualified — not about whether voters disagree with specific court opinions. There is absolutely no reason why these three justices should not be retained, so the Republican Party has made one up.

The state party cites a 2003 court opinion that ordered a new trial for a man who had been sentenced to death for a horrific 1984 murder, concluding that he had inadequate legal representation. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed and overturned the state court's decision. Never mind that this case occurred before these three justices last appeared on the ballot. Republicans have selected it from among thousands of cases to fuel public outrage and serve as cover for their real complaints with the courts.

Hours after Scott took office last year, he signed an executive order seizing control of the state rulemaking process. The Florida Supreme Court ruled Scott "overstepped his constitutional authority and violated the separation of powers.'' Federal courts have ruled against Scott and the Legislature by upholding the Affordable Care Act and blocking random drug testing for state employees and drug tests for poor Floridians applying for welfare benefits. Courts have also overturned a ban on doctors asking patients about gun ownership and changes that made it harder to register new voters and cast early ballots. The Republican Party's opposition to the three state Supreme Court justices is an effort to intimidate them as they decide challenges to public pension changes and privatizing state prisons approved by the governor and Legislature.

There are indications that Scott and his allies at the Republican Party have less than full support from within the party's own ranks. Attorney General Pam Bondi refused to say Monday whether she supports the move, and legislative leaders such as incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, were not consulted beforehand. Their unwillingness to endorse the party's position says volumes, but all Republicans who recognize there really are three independent branches of government should be clear about where they stand.

It would make no difference if the justices all had been appointed by Republican governors and it was the Florida Democratic Party that was interfering with the merit retention process. Florida voters smartly adopted this system in 1976 to appoint rather than elect Supreme Court justices and appellate judges, and to have each of them face a merit retention vote every six years. Those reforms have served the state well, and voters should reject this heavy-handed effort to intimidate and politicize the court.

Comments
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18