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Guest Opinion

Beware of the Judicial ‘Fix’

Imagine what would happen if a football coach were allowed to hand-pick the referees for all of his games.  What if he had the power to fire any referee who dared to call a foul against his team? Even the home crowd would be outraged by such a suggestion. It violates the whole premise of fair play.

Now imagine giving anyone similar influence over the rulings issued by a court of law.    

That is exactly what some politicians and special interest groups are plotting — and it poses a severe threat to individuals and businesses alike. I am talking, of course, about the November 2012 merit retention referendum concerning Supreme Court Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis.

The rule of law establishes the rules of the game for doing business. It creates a stable environment where plans can be made, property can be protected, expectations can exist, complaints can be made and rights can be protected. It provides the liberty from government intrusion and predictability in regulation that businesses need to succeed. It is the foundation of democracy.  So, it is no exaggeration to say that the future of democracy is at stake when politicians attempt a calculated power grab and seek to seize control of the courts and undermine their ability to uphold the rule of law.

Our Florida Supreme Court justices have demonstrated the ability to stand up to government overreach and enforce the constitutional limits that the people of Florida have placed on the powers of our elected leaders — and the politicians don’t like it.

Don’t be fooled. Judges, unlike politicians, are supposed to let the law, not politics, guide their decisions. The current members of the court have repeatedly fulfilled that duty, coming down on the side of the Constitution and the citizens of Florida against government overreach.

Attempts to politicize the courts are increasingly brazen. Last year, legislative leaders launched an unprecedented assault on the courts. The power-grabbing proposals included:

  • Gubernatorial appointment of the chief justice of the Supreme Court
  • Wiping the slate of all Judicial Nominating Commissions, allowing the governor to appoint all new members
  • Splitting the Supreme Court into two divisions, relegating the three most senior justices to the criminal division, and expanding the court from 7 to 10 justices, creating three new openings in the civil division for the governor to control the court with his own appointees.
  • Legislative control over court rule-making

All but the final proposal were withdrawn in the face of strong public opposition. Politicians are expected to take another run at allowing Governor Scott to appoint all new members to the judicial nominating commissions during the upcoming legislative session.  Indeed, as William Large, president of Florida Justice Reform Institute, a business-backed legal group, stated, “There is an apparent divide on the Florida Supreme Court. The majority seems to perceive its role as the policy making branch of government. They seem to be intent on articulating what the law should be, instead of what the law is. The minority on the court seems to be saying that the policy making branch of the government is the legislative branch, not the judicial branch.” And some of these same politicians have already signaled plans to go after the three justices who will come up for retention in 2012: Justice Barbara Pariente, Justice Fred Lewis and Justice Peggy Quince.  

These justices bring an impressive background and diversity to the fair and impartial manner in which they make their rulings — and that strong background applies to the entire current court. They all have a commitment to the community, strong legal backgrounds and many decades of combined distinguished service to the court and Florida’s Constitution.
Politics have no place in our courtrooms. When all else fails, we need to be able to turn to the courts with confidence that rulings will be based on fair and impartial consideration of the merits, and equal and consistent application of the law. We all lose if politicians of any stripe are successful in a power grab and take control of our courts.

Stuart Z. Grossman
founder, Grossman Roth, P.A.
2525 Ponce De Leon Blvd.
Suite 1150
Coral Gables, FL 33134

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