Amendment 8 ballot language was ‘defective,’ Florida Supreme Court rules

"Why all this wordsmithing? Just come out and say it," Justice Jorge Labarga comments during a Sept. 5 hearing on the status of Amendment 8. [The Florida Channel]
"Why all this wordsmithing? Just come out and say it," Justice Jorge Labarga comments during a Sept. 5 hearing on the status of Amendment 8. [The Florida Channel]
Published October 15
Updated October 15

The Florida Supreme Court removed Amendment 8 from the November 6 ballot because it failed to inform voters of its true purpose, the court stated in its opinion on the matter, released Monday.

"That the ballot summary is unclear is best demonstrated by the proponents of the proposed revision, who each give different meaning to the language of the revision, its title, and its summary," the majority wrote, upholding a Leon County judge's decision.

The court announced its ruling in early September, giving election supervisors time to strike the language from the ballot before sending them out. It stated at the time it would later deliver its rationale in the case, in which the League of Women Voters had challenged the amendment language put forth by the Constitution Revision Commission.

Related coverage: Florida Supreme Court strikes Amendment 8 from November ballot 

The CRC had tied together three education-related matters — school board term limits, civics literacy and public school authorization — into one question. The League of Women Voters argued that the third item, which could have led to a state authorizer of charter schools outside the authority of school boards, was not clearly defined for voters.

The circuit court, and then the Supreme Court, agreed.

"While the ballot summary informs voters that district school boards will no longer have the authority to operate, control, and supervise public schools that they do not establish, the summary fails to explain who or what, other than district school boards, currently has the authority to establish public schools, which categories of public schools will be affected, and who or what will have the authority to establish future public schools if voters approve the revision" the Supreme Court ruled.

"Failure to explain this key component of the revision is exacerbated by the fact that the phrase 'established by' is not one that is consistently used in Florida Statutes, when addressing public schools. …  Because it is a phrase that is neither commonly nor consistently used, it cannot be commonly understood by voters."

The language also did not make clear which types of schools would be affected by the proposal, the court stated.

Read the opinion here

Justices Barbara Pariente and Fred Lewis joined the majority with Justices Jorge Labarga and Peggy Quince, and issued their own separate concurring opinion.

Justices Charles Canady, Al Lawson and Ricky Polston dissented. In the minority opinion, Canady wrote that the summary clearly stated its meaning, and was in no way misleading.

"The people of Florida should have the opportunity to vote on this proposal to amend the Constitution," Canady wrote.

Advertisement