When our forefathers drafted our Constitution, they set up three distinct and separate branches of government: the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch. We tend to focus upon the first two branches of government and spend little time focusing on the importance of the Judicial Branch of government.
Having an impartial Judiciary that is independent of the Executive and Legislative branches of government is necessary to create the checks and balances that make our system function properly. Our Florida Constitution calls for a “fair and independent judiciary.”
In Florida, our justices to the Supreme Court are appointed by the governor after being screened by legal experts. Every six years, justices face a state-wide merit retention vote. When they make decisions on the bench that are unpopular with one special interest or another, they can become vulnerable to a politicized effort to remove them. Florida Supreme Court Justices are R. Fred Lewis, Barbara J. Pariente, and Peggy A. Quinn. On November 6th, they will appear on the ballot for merit retention, and the electorate will have the chance to vote “yes” or “no.”
There is a movement being led by conservative Republicans and out-of-state special interest groups to oust these three justices from the Florida Supreme Court. Voters should be aware that the Florida Bar recently polled its members who gave approval to all three justices, ranging from 89% to 92%. While no judge is going to make decisions that are 100% popular 100% of the time, the fact that these judges have such high approval ratings from attorneys who practice in front of them confirms that they should not be dismissed from the Florida Supreme Court. Florida Supreme Court Justices need to be encouraged to decide cases based upon our states Constitution, not on what is politically correct, expedient, or popular at the time. If the three judges are voted off the bench, it will be a huge blow to an independent and impartial judiciary in Florida.
Another critical issue on November’s ballot is Amendment 5 which if passed will further erode the independence and impartiality of judges in the state of Florida. Amendment 5 proposes to require Florida Senate confirmation of state Supreme Court Justices and give the legislature control over changes to the rules governing the judicial system. This proposed Amendment would take power away from the Judicial branch of government and put more political power into the hands of lawmakers. This would certainly undermine the independence of the judiciary and weaken the separation of the state’s three branches of government. A “yes” vote on Amendment 5 simply gives too much power over all areas of government to our legislature.
If you wish to retain a fair, impartial, and independent judicial system in the state of Florida, we recommend you vote “yes” on retaining the three Florida Supreme Court Justices, and vote “no” on Amendment 5.