Former Florida Supreme Court chief justice: Amendment 8 ‘misleading,’ ‘deceptive’

Charles T. Wells, who was chief justice from 2000 to 2002, offered his opinion of the three-part education amendment.
Published July 27, 2018

It's still a long way to November, when voters will be asked to vote up or down on 13 proposed amendments to the state constitution. But only a few so far have generated as much debate as Amendment 8, a measure that is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters.

The amendment is a combination of three separate education proposals which were rolled into one. It would: (1) create eight-year term limits for school board members, (2) enshrine in the constitution the civics education graduation requirement that currently exists in state law and (3) pave the way for the Legislature to create a separate body to authorize and oversee charter schools, outside of the authority of the local school boards.

The lawsuit has its first hearing August 17, yet former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Wells has already decided where he stands: opposed.

Wells offered his thoughts in an unprompted eight-page "opinion," sent first to the League and then the Times/Herald. Wells now works at an Orlando law firm, which is not representing any of the parties in the suit.

"This significant change from local county school board control … is hidden by packaging the change with what are thought to be attractive proposals for term limits and civics education," Wells wrote. "In reality, the terms limits and civics education proposals are only bait to attract voters to vote yes for Amendment 8."

Wells was appointed by Democratic governor Lawton Chiles and served on the court from 1994 to 2009, serving as chief justice from 2000 to 2002. Wells ruled against state school vouchers in the Bush v. Holmes decision.

The true purpose of the amendment, argues Wells, is to "overrule" a previous court decision by the First District Court of Appeal, which struck down a statewide charter school authorizer by finding it unconstitutional. That decision was referenced several times in the Constitution Revision Commission's discussion of the amendment during the drafting process.

The fact that the proposal's summary does not mention that original case is one of the reasons why it's "misleading" and "deceptive," Wells wrote.

You can read his entire "opinion" here.

RELATED COVERAGE: Explaining 13 constitutional amendments on Florida's ballot

Gradebook podcast: Supporting Amendment 8, with Erika Donalds of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission