1. Florida Politics

Gov. Scott needs to keep hands off Florida's judiciary

Published Oct. 30, 2013

In politics, there will always be politics.

And politicians who have the power to appoint people to important jobs will use it to bring in people of like mind, politics-wise.

I get it. It's politics.

But Gov. Rick Scott's methods in picking people who help choose some of Florida's judges sure looks like appalling politics — exactly where it does not belong.

Here's how this is supposed to work: Lawyers, preferably respected and accomplished ones of varied backgrounds, get selected to serve on 26 judicial nominating commissions around the state.

Those commissions, also made up of nonlawyers, vet candidates and recommend to the governor short lists of nominees when there's a seat open for him to appoint someone to the trial, appeals courts or state Supreme Court benches.

The idea is that legal reputation, ability, professional record and such should matter, and that lawyers presumably know the best in their own tribe, and that politics is for elections. Ha.

The governor appoints five members to each nominating commission and is supposed to pick the other four from lists of nominations from the Florida Bar. But as the Times' Steve Bousquet reported this week, Scott has said no 16 times to the Bar's lists of recommended lawyers.

The governor hasn't said why, but it sure seems he's looking for a certain kind of member — not, say, the Tallahassee lawyer honored by the NAACP, the Jacksonville consumer protection attorney who testified before Congress or the one who helped successfully sue the tobacco industry.

Scott has in the past spoken out against "activist" judges. His chief counsel told the Times the governor wants people with "humility" and judges who will follow the law. He said "humility," but somehow I heard "tea party."

As Bousquet reported, lawyers who are Democrats, who call themselves trial lawyers or are associated with lefty causes don't appear to have a shot.

Maybe you're thinking: Don't be naive. Politics is politics, and don't our governors do this sort of thing all the time?

Not the last two in the driver's seat.

The Florida Bar says Charlie Crist (then a Republican, now a Democrat) and Jeb Bush (a Republican) both accepted the Bar's suggestions. Maybe they thought the organization that oversees the state's lawyers — Republicans, Democrats, attorneys of all stripe — knew what it was talking about when it came to, you know, lawyers.

No one should like this revelation regarding our judges. I should not like this even if the governor was holding out for candidates who were all liberal women from the South with a fondness for Labrador retrievers.

Because this isn't the housing authority, an educational board or the myriad of committees and councils a governor gets to make his mark on with whom he chooses to appoint. This is influencing something that needs to be as above influence as anything in government can possibly be: independent, apolitical judges who represent the varied people who populate this state.

Here is what we should want from our next governor: a person who recognizes the importance of a judiciary untainted as we can make it, regardless of how candidates happen to lean, politics-wise.


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