The Rightward Drift of the Florida’s Supreme Court

Immediately after the Republicans took complete control of state Government in January 1999, Republicans began talking often and openly about changing Florida’s court system and the way judges are selected. With the Republicans looking to impose a strict ideological framework on state government, the courts stood in the way of the radical rewrite of governance doctrinaire conservatives long sought.

For many years the judiciary served as the only truly independent branch of Government remaining. In an era when lobbyists and special interests have free run of the Florida Legislature and executive branch, the Supreme Court has in most cases prior to 2008 continued to do its job independently and without partisan or political considerations. The Florida Supreme Court until that time routinely put a roadblock against the most extreme and illegal actions by the Republican led, and conservative dominated Legislature/Executive Branch.

Jeb Bush was frustrated with the courts unwillingness to give him a rubber stamp and appointed several lower court justices who instead of interpreting the constitution sought to impose an ido0logical litmus test on decisions. The lack of Supreme Court retirements in addition to the complicated, but effective process for selecting judges in Florida hamstrung Bush. But Bush and current Governor Rick Scott have not had the impact in pushing Florida’s Judiciary to right as much as Charlie Crist did. As Governor, Crist appointed the two most conservative justices on the court, Justice Charles Canady (a former congressman who compiled a heavy right voting record in the US House) and Justice Ricky Polston. Crist’s appointments (four in all) radically shifted the court’s direction from consumer and citizens protection to ideological and political.

The Republicans have long claimed that they are for “cutting taxes and spending, and ensuring more freedom”. Yet as we have repeatedly seen in the Legislature,  job creation and corporate relocations have lagged behind other similar sized states while the average Floridian continues to be stuck with a higher tax bill each and every year. But with a new Crist appointed conservative leaning Supreme Court in place, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Florida Legislature   have repeatedly tried to use the court system including the Crist/GOP packed Supreme Court to be defacto legislators spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money in the process. These frivolous lawsuits by the Republicans continue to waste taxpayer dollars. Every time an attorney hired by the state walks into a courtroom, that attorney is taking money away from a child in a school, social service programs, road construction, etc.  Instead of constantly calling for more “tort reform” perhaps the Florida Legislature should set the example and pledge to no longer sue other governmental entities or appeal the rulings of the court system.

Even after the appointments made by Crist pushed the court as far right as it had been since the 1960s, the Republicans attempted to politicize the Supreme Court in this past election cycle when the party actively opposed the merit retention of the three remaining Chiles appointees on the Supreme Court.

From the RPOF on September 21, 2012:
“This week, the RPOF executive board voted unanimously to oppose the retention of Supreme Court Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince.  While the collective evidence of judicial activism amassed by these three individuals is extensive, there is one egregious example that all Florida voters should bear in mind when they go to the polls on election day.  These three justices voted to set aside the death penalty for a man convicted of tying a woman to a tree with jumper cables and setting  her on fire.  The fact that the United States Supreme Court voted, unanimously, to throw out their legal opinion, raises serious questions as to their competence to understand the law and serve on the bench, and demonstrates that all three justices are too extreme not just for Florida, but for America, too.”

The GOP cleverly picked one ruling to make their point about three excellent justices. The conservatives went further with a website dedicated to attacking the three justices. R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince were all appointed between 1996 and 1998 by the late Governor Lawton Chiles. Each was highly recommended by the Florida Bar and has served with distinction on the court, preventing the extremist legislature who have failed to understand or respect Florida’s 1968 Constitution (nor take the time in many cases to understand the debates and process involved in drafting the document). With Florida citizens under attack from a group of elected officials who haven’t bothered to immerse themselves in the finer points of governing or understanding the state as a whole, the Supreme Court has been our only defense. Thankfully, Florida’s voters were not swayed by the RPOF effort and the justices were all retained.

As we demonstrate above the tenure of  Governor Charlie Crist led to a more partisan and politicized judiciary. Crist appointees and then the willingness of the RPOF to interfere in merit retention cases has pushed Florida’s top court further and further away from its position as a gatekeeper and safety net for Florida’s citizens. The GOP as a party has used judges and non-corporate attorney’s as constant bogeymen in the effort to score political points. It was about time this stopped.

19 comments

  1. Important for everyone to read this and understand Crist is no progressive. The four most conservative justices were appointed by him.

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  2. You need to either be taken down or openly disclose how much Rick Scott and the Republicans are paying you to keep the Crist thing going. Or you are just Forest Gump stupid. Stupid enough to think we can beat Scott with another Democrat. Crist was run out of the Republican party because he was too liberal. Yet every article on this site refers to him as a conservative which is plain wrong.

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    1. As a progressive who has been around Florida politics for two decades I am more concerned about reversing the trend of runaway ideologically conservative government than one particular election. The reality about Governor Crist is that he was a conservative that did some very partisan and ideologically motivated things. I do not seek to undermine his potential candidacy but seek to present the historical record and promote progressive ideas and causes. This has nothing to do with Charlie Crist but for whatever reason many of his supporters are overly sensitive about every posting on this site. The only thing to fear, I would advise them is the historical public record of the former Governor.

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    2. Anyone who claims to be a “progressive” yet openly backs CharLIE and then also accuses Kartik of being a Rick Scott supporter is so very dumb that they will make Forest Gump look smart. Jack you are a bleeping idiot! Go join the GOP where all the arrogant, uneducated filth congregate.

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      1. CharLIE?

        Not funny at all

        Do you want to win or lose??? You are enabling the Republicans if you tear down Crist. This website I swear was only created to destroy him under the facade of being progressive. We have let you guys destroy the party for years, time is up on that.

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  3. No one knows or cares about Crist and who he appointed. Only you are making this an issue. He is one of us now. Embrace him or join Scott. That is your choice.

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    1. Nobody knows that the two most conservative justices we’ve had since the 1960s were appointed by Crist? Really? If no one knows that now, people with a much larger megaphone will inform them I assure you.

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  4. I agree Jack. No one know about this if Kartik did not use this forum to constantly attack Crist. We will be launching a boycott of this blog. No one will read it anymore.

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    1. RJ, are you a progressive or simply a political hack? Seriously, just wondering since this site focuses on issues and progressives policies. You misunderstand our mission and goals I sense.

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  5. I think this is so sad that this author is being slammed for reporting the truth. You have not seen anything yet. Wait until the truth comes out about the Veteran’s Alliance Organization between the Democrats and the Republicans they are going to want anyone but Crist and clan.

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  6. Jack and RJ,

    Same person. I would suggest that you stop making deals. We all know what went down in 2010 and 2012 election cycle. You should be thanking Bill McCollum. He is cleaning up even though he is not in power anymore.

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  7. Fla Dem Insider · · Reply

    This is a fantastic article.

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  8. Crist may be leading a Dem Primary right now but as activist voters are educated about his history he will sink.

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  9. He is leading the Dem Primary in which he is not in? The Democrats are suppose to be the party of counting votes and fairness. There is someone already filed by the name of Senator Nan Rich and I know she has my vote. Crist is being set up the Democrats can’t be this fucking stupid

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  10. Concerned Democrat · · Reply

    THE PROBLEM HERE IS THAT CRIST WAS ALWAYS MORE CONSERVATIVE THAN DEMOCRATS WANT TO BELIEVE NOW THAT HE IS OUR SAVIOR. OH AND NOMINATING MODERATES EVERY ELECTION HAS NOT HELPED. THIS IS A GOOD ARTICLE AND SHOULD REMIND DEMOCRATS OF CRIST AND HIS SHAMEFUL RIGHT WING RECORD.

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  11. floridian · · Reply

    Crist is not a progressive. This blog is doing him a favor by airing out his conservative actions as legislator and governor. It will be up to him to prove he is worthy of Democratic votes but as governor I do not think he was as conservative as today’s Republican Party. I think he can benefit Dems to the extent that he can raise money the party does not have right now because it lacks big names to bring out big money. He will be expected to put Dems into positions of power and that will help build a bench for future elections. Any candidacy by Crist must he looked at as a way to build up the Dems in the long term even if progressive reforms are not passed in the short term. We just need to win something statewide outside of national elections.

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  12. CLUELESS DEMS · · Reply

    those defending Crist have simply not paid attention for years or are political newbies intoxicated with the prospect of power. Honestly, once the campaign begins and Crist becomes the subject of all the negative ads he will sink just as he did in 2010. Hopefully this happens in the primary so his baggage doesn’t take down the whole party in the general.

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  13. […] The Rightward Drift of the Florida's Supreme Court | The Florida … […]

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  14. […] recent weeks. This website last week looked in-depth at Crist’s  shameful record on guns and previously at his right-wing Supreme Court appointments, while others have brought forward his poor record on school “choice” initiatives of […]

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