Florida GOP joins fight to unseat three justicesby John Kennedy | September 21st, 2012
The Florida Republican Party said Friday it is adding its heft to an effort to unseat the last three state Supreme Court justices appointed by a Democratic governor.
State GOP Chairman Lenny Curry said the party’s executive board has voted to oppose the merit retention of Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince on Nov. 6. A conservative group, Restore Justice 2012, has labeled the three a liberal leaning bloc on the seven-member court, which has stymied a range of initiatives advanced by the Republican-ruled Legislature in recent years.
Curry didn’t say whether the party would steer cash toward Restore Justice, which so far has reported only modest fund-raising. Instead, party leaders lashed out at the justices as activists, pointing to a specific death penalty ruling.
“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,” said GOP spokeswoman Kristen McDonald. “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.”
McDonald referred to a 2003 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that ordered a new trial for Joe Elton Nixon, convicted of murder in Leon County 19 years earlier. The three justices were part of a 5-2 ruling that found Nixon’s lawyer wrongfully conceded his client’s guilt without his approval.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Florida court in an 8-0 decision. Nixon is still on death row.
Supporters of the justices blasted the GOP’s entry into the campaign.
“Florida has had its experience with partisan political involvement in our judiciary and we know that it has been corrupting,” said Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association and Florida State University president.
“ The announcement that the Republican Party is engaged in this effort would shock those wonderful Republican statesmen who helped create the merit selection and merit retention processes,” he added. ”Surely we do not want to go back to the broken past.”
In merit retention, in place in Florida since 1976, voters get to decide “yes” or “no” whether a justice should receive another six-year term. No justice has been voted off the court since it was introduced.
But some rulings by the Florida court in school voucher, abortion and ballot initiatives sought by the Republican-ruled Legislature have fueled a kind of “kill the umpire” campaign, emerging from the political right. The three justices targeted were appointed by late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, with Quince named jointly with former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.
A study by the Brennan Center and the National Institute on Money in State Politics found that $38.4 million was spent on high court elections nationwide in 2009-10. Political parties and special interest groups, many of them backed by businesses or social activists, accounted for 30 percent of the spending.
Curry later the the Post that it was not yet decided whether the GOP would spend money on TV spots, mail pieces or other efforts to defeat the justices. “Those are operational decisions,” Curry said.
But he added the direction from his board members was clear. “They said, ‘make sure the justices are not retained,’” Curry said.