Thursday, April 26, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Do not allow Gov. Rick Scott to pack Supreme Court on his way out the door

If it is on his wish list, Rick Scott should throw a raucous party on his final morning in the Governor's Mansion in January 2019. His very own parade down Monroe Street in Tallahassee even could be allowed. What Scott should not be allowed to do is pack the Florida Supreme Court by appointing three new justices hours before his successor is scheduled to take office.

That audacious plan is precisely what Scott is determined to do on his way out the door. Never mind that his strategy would break with recent precedent. Never mind that voters made clear in 2014 that they do not believe an outgoing governor should have that authority. Scott plans on defying common sense, and perhaps the Florida Constitution, with a power grab that could redefine the direction of the state for years to come.

The Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause have asked the Supreme Court to avoid a "constitutional crisis'' and affirm a future governor's right to name incoming justices. Scott's attorneys asked that the lawsuit be dismissed and asserted the three departing justices will reach their age-mandated retirements at the end of Jan. 7, 2019, while Scott would remain in office until his successor is sworn in on Jan. 8. The plaintiff's response is due this week.

To be sure, this is not a new debate in Florida. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles and incoming Republican Gov. Jeb Bush faced the same situation in 1998, and they agreed to interview candidates before jointly naming Peggy Ann Quince to the Supreme Court. Former Govs. Bob Graham, a Democrat, and Bob Martinez, a Republican both avoided potential confrontations by allowing their successors to fill court vacancies. Seeking to clarify the issue, the Legislature placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2014 that would have turned the authority over to the outgoing governor. The amendment, which needed 60 percent approval to pass, mustered only 48 percent of the vote.

This means Scott is both defying the statesmanlike decisions of previous governors and ignoring the undisputed desire of the voters. The Supreme Court would be wise to quickly shut the door on this potential calamity. Beyond the wishes of voters, it is a simple question of accountability. No governor should be allowed to make such a lasting choice while not sticking around to face potential backlash. If this was allowable, what would stop an outgoing governor from naming an extreme ideologue, benefactor or family member to the Supreme Court?

Clearly, this is as much of a political issue as a constitutional question. The three retiring justices — R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — all lean toward the liberal side of the court. That means Scott would be able to reshape the balance of the court for a decade or more if he is allowed to replace all three in the hours before the Jan. 8, 2019, inauguration of the next governor. Considering Republicans have won the last five gubernatorial elections, there's a decent chance a Republican governor will be making this decision no matter what the Supreme Court decides.

But political parties are not the point here. This should be a constitutional question. It should be a common sense question. It should be a question that reflects the values and desires of Florida's voters. The justices should waste no time in telling Scott — and all future governors — that last-minute appointments to the state's highest court are not in Florida's best interests.

Comments

Editorial: It’s up to Florida’s voters to restore felons’ civil rights now

The disappointing ruling Wednesday by a federal appeals court should erase any doubt that the decision on restoring voting rights for felons rests solely on the conscience of Florida voters. A tortured ruling by the minimum majority of a three-judge ...
Updated: 4 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...
Published: 04/25/18
Updated: 04/26/18

‘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 ...
Published: 04/25/18
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