Here’s another legal challenge for Florida’s constitutional amendments

Retired Florida chief justice Harry Lee Anstead argues that six of eight amendments placed on November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission are illegal.
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead, seen here in 2004. [Times]
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead, seen here in 2004. [Times]
Published Aug. 14, 2018|Updated Aug. 15, 2018

Six of the eight amendments placed on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission require voters to "pay a price for the right to vote for or against them,'' retired Florida chief justice Harry Lee Anstead argued Tuesday in a lawsuit filed with the state Supreme Court.

Anstead, who served on the Supreme Court from 1994 to 2009, is asking his former colleagues to remove six proposed constitutional amendments from the November ballot because they are either unconstitutionally misleading or violate First Amendment rights. He was joined by former a former High Springs City Commissioner Robert Barnas, and the court has given the state until Monday to reply.

They argue in the "quo warranto" petition that the "bundled" amendments unconstitutionally prevent voters from making a simple "yes" or "no" decision on them.

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

"This is logrolling and a form of issue gerrymandering that violates the First Amendment right of the voter to vote for or against specific independent and unrelated proposals to amend the Constitution without paying the price of supporting a measure the voter opposes or opposing a measure the voter supports,'' Anstead and Barnas wrote. "… No sufficiently important state interest justifies such an infringement upon the right to vote."

Anstead, who is filing the measure as a citizen and a voter, said he was motivated to challenge the the amendments because he was "very distressed to see that the Constitution Revision Commission seemed to establish a pattern with the issues" on the ballot.

"That pattern was bringing together essentially unrelated issues and putting them in individual packages that required voters that might support one of the issues to also agree to contradictory issues — or those that should be individually evaluated."

The Constitution Revision Commission is impaneled once every 20 years with the task of updating the state's constitution and the power to put amendments directly on the ballot.

The Republican-dominated commission decided that because it had nearly 20 ideas, and it was concerned about "voter fatigue," it wanted to merge related ideas into six amendments: Amendment 6, which links three proposals that would create a bill of rights for crime victims and set new requirements for judges; Amendment 7, which provides new survivor benefits for first responder and military survivors while also requiring university trustees to agree by a two-thirds super-majority to raise college fees; Amendment 8, which combines new eight-year school board term limits with expanded civics education in public schools, to a plan to enable charter schools to bypass local school boards; Amendment 9, which links a ban on oil and gas drilling in state-owned waters to a proposal to add vaping to the ban on smoking indoors; Amendment 10, which combines a plan to change the start dates of the legislative session, to creating a counter-terrorism office and a state veterans affairs department to a proposal that would require counties like Miami-Dade and Broward to have all county-level offices be elected; and Amendment 11, which eliminates two obsolete provisions relating to "alien" citizens and criminal sentencing.

But Ansteaad and Barnas argue that in merging ideas, they also mislead and deceive voters.

Brecht Heuchan, chair of the CRC style and drafting committee that voted to bundle the amendments, said the panel "followed the authority granted to the commission by the Constitution and statute, and followed every precedent that we had from the prior two commissions, both of which grouped proposals."

RELATED COVERAGE: Florida convenes a special panel every 20 years. Did this one blow its opportunity?

"If Floridians find any part of any of the proposals objectionable, they have every constitutional right to express their will by voting no,'' he said.
Anstead, who was on the court when the 1998 CRC placed proposals before voters, said he considers that explanation "really thin soup."

He said the examples of the past are "very narrow precedent" and "can't justify the wholesale manner in which the commission has taken all these varied issues and put them together in packages."

The 37-member commission, which included 34 Republicans, left two stand-alone amendments: a new ethics standard for elected officials and a phase-out of greyhound racing. Neither of them are being challenged by Anstead.

Constitutional experts, and several members of the CRC, have warned that the bundling could doom the amendments even if the court lets them remain on the ballot because voters often vote against ideas if they think it's confusing.

Florida convenes a special panel every 20 years. Did this one blow its opportunity?

Anstead's challenge is one in a growing list of lawsuits contesting the amendments placed on the ballot by the CRC.

A separate challenge to Amendment 8, relating to education, is scheduled to be heard in Leon County Court on Friday.

Anstead is the second former chief justice to voice opposition to the amendments. Former Justice Charles Wells has come out in opposition to Amendment 8, suggesting that the school board term limits and civics education proposals are intended as "bait to attract voters to vote yes" on the proposal to strip local school boards of control of charter schools.

Miami-Dade and Volusia counties have asked the court to throw out Amendment 10, saying it misleads voters by failing to notify them that the proposal would strip local governments of some of their home rule authority. The Florida Supreme Court has set an Aug. 31 deadline for briefs to be filed in that case.