BY THE FLORIDA COURIER EDITORIAL STAFF
We’ve often said about the Republican Party that “99 and a half won’t do” for them. They’ve got to have it all.
The latest example? The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) wants to take over the top level of Florida’s judicial branch: the Florida Supreme Court. And despite the fact that the court’s defenders have raised millions of dollars to support them, no one has bothered to speak directly to Black Floridians.
We will weigh in here anyway, as the issue is too important to ignore.
How ‘retention’ works
In the mid-1970s, Florida changed the state constitution from corrupt, money-filled contested appeals court elections to the current “merit retention” system.
Florida appeals court judges and Supreme Court justices are now on the ballot in nonpartisan merit retention elections every six years, so a majority of voters can determine whether they should stay in office.
This year, three of the seven Supreme Court justices – R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince – and 15 appeals court judges (out of 61) have merit retention elections.
A “YES” vote means you want the judge or justice to stay in office. A “NO” vote means you want the judge or justice to be removed from office.
Conservative activists have launched a campaign to oust Lewis, Pariente and Quince – who happens to be the first and only Black female justice in the court’s history. They form the backbone of what one media outlet called “the court’s left-of-center majority.”
And that’s the real problem. They aren’t drunks, incompetents, or crackheads taking naps on the bench while lawyers are pleading their cases. They are sober, well-respected judges who disagree with the GOP-dominated Florida Legislature on too many occasions. And that’s unacceptable to the RPOF, which announced in late September that its executive board had voted to oppose the justices.
No sitting Supreme Court justice has ever lost a merit retention race. No state party had ever openly targeted a sitting Florida Supreme Court justice for defeat in a “retention” race.
Gone too far
Three Republican state senators broke ranks, urging the part to step back. Sens. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, Rene Garcia of Hialeah, and Dennis Jones of Seminole, issued a joint statement asking Florida’s GOP to reconsider its position.
“Each of us has been disappointed in one ruling or another from this and other courts,” the senators wrote. “But the need for a fair and impartial judiciary far outweighs our individual disagreements with any specific opinion.”
True words were never spoken. Vote YES to retain all three.