This week three prominent and well respected Republican leaders joined the chorus criticizing the Florida GOP Executive Committee for its decision to target three Florida Supreme Court Justices in the November election. Florida’s Constitution provides that Supreme Court justices are appointed after a Judicial Nominating Committee screens candidates and sends a short list to the Governor who then selects one of the nominees. Once appointed the Justices face a merit retention vote every six years, which is a “yes” or “no” up or down vote.
There has never been more than token opposition in a Supreme Court merit retention vote until this year when the Florida GOP Executive Committee voted to oppose three of the Justices — Lewis, Quince and Pariente. So why now?
First, this attack seems to have its roots in decisions by the Court to strike three initiatives from the ballot in 2010 which were favored and pushed by then Speaker Dean Cannon and some other Republican leaders. Second, the attack appears to be supported by the same special interests who have mounted similar attacks in other states against justices who are not decidedly pro-business. This happened in Iowa’s 2010 vote where a group founded by the Koch brothers defeated three Iowa Supreme Court Justices over a ruling that allowed same sex marriage. It’s been reported that like in Iowa, the Kochs are funding the campaign in Florida. If the campaign against the Justices succeeds in Florida the Court will be radically re-shaped by Governor Rick Scott as he will be allowed to replace the sitting Justices with three of his own appointments.
Three prominent GOP leaders recently came out against the campaign in a public letter and requested a reappraisal of the decision by the Executive Committee. The three Republicans who wrote the letter — former U.S. Attorneys Roberto Martinez and Marcos Jiminez along with former judge and GOP candidate for Lieutentant Governor — announced their opposition to the Committee’s decision based upon concerns that it improperly politicizes the judicial system. Arguing that the merit retention vote should be eliminated, the three leaders wrote,
It is because we believe it so fundamentally to our democracy and our liberty that our judiciary be neutral and independent, that we disagree with the decision of the Executive Committee… Our experience suggests strongly that partisan politics will add more heat than light when placed near the merit retention election of these three Florida Supreme Court Justices.
Although not widely reported in the media, this letter is a telling sign that some of the wiser and more prudent Party leaders are backing away from the Executive Committee’s decision. Martinez has long been respected as a thoughtful and wise leader who rarely ventures into the fray of partisan politics. He is a close personal friend of former Governor Jeb Bush and Chaired the Transition Team for both Bush and former Governor Charlie Crist when they were first elected. Unlike the other shrill voices on both sides of the aisle, when Martinez speaks — which is rare — the GOP leaders who really matter in Florida listen.
Martinez’ letter is a very good sign for the sitting Justices.