Supporters of embattled justices offer civics lesson in their defenseby John Kennedy | September 11th, 2012
Supporters of three Florida Supreme Court justices under fire from conservative activists offered a civics lesson Tuesday in urging voters to reject the drive.
Former Justice Raoul Cantero, who argued a pivotal state pension fund case before the court just last week, said the nation’s constitutional separation of powers should shield justices from the whims of politics.
Cantero said courts should not be subject to “politcal pressure. It is to be a fair and impartial branch of government,” he said.
In a conference call Tuesday, Cantero was among several speakers from Defend Justice from Politics, the committee supporting Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. An organization called Restore Justice 2012, loosely allied with the tea party movement, is working to have voters unseat the justices in their Nov. 6 merit retention contests.
In merit retention, created by the 1976 Florida constitution, voters get to cast ‘yes’ or ‘no’ votes on whether justices should get another six-year term on the court. No justice has been defeated in a merit retention contest since it was initiated.
Lewis, Pariente and Quince, however, have been targeted as a liberal-leaning bloc by Restore Justice. The three also are the last justices appointed by a Democratic governor — the late Lawton Chiles — although Quince also was named jointly with former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.
Dick Batchelor, another supporter of the justices, said conservatives should look to the Federalist Papers, another touchstone of American democracy, if they want more schooling in why justices should not be rewarded or punished for past decisions. “It’s really about raw politics,” Batchelor said of the campaign against the three.
Restore Justice last week issued a report card on the justices — giving each F grades on a host of decisions issued since 1998. Included are a controversial death penalty ruling, business-related issues, and the rejection of Bush’s private school voucher program and a proposed ballot measure by the Republican-ruled Legislature that was aimed at blocking the federal health care overhaul in Florida.
Talbot ‘Sandy’ D’Alemberte, a former American Bar Association president, dismissed the analysis as a “very shoddy job.”
Former Sen. Alex Villalobos, a Miami Republican, said he also was concerned with “the amount of money coming into this election.”
The mismatch currently, though, seems to favor justices.
Pariente, Lewis and Quince have raised more than $1 million for their merit retention campaigns — almost all of it coming from the state’s legal community. The Florida Bar also is weighing in, launching a first-ever education campaign on merit retention, aimed at voters.
By contrast, Restore Justice has reported collecting $41,500 — all of it coming from Miami Beach doctor Allan Jacob.
Villalobos, though, said business groups and other court opponents have poured money into judicial races in other states at the last minute — a concern he harbors here.
“I hope I’m proven wrong,” Villalobos said.