ACLU says Scott has led “wide-ranging, expensive assault” on civil libertiesby John Kennedy | January 10th, 2013
The ACLU of Florida said Thursday that the 11 lawsuits the advocacy organization has filed or joined challenging policies of Gov. Rick Scott shows his two years in office has been marked by repeated attempts to undermine constitutional liberties.
ACLU executive director Howard Simon said the organization chose to release its midterm assessment at a time the Republican governor has showed signs of moving toward the political middle, with an eye toward his 2014 election.
But Simon said Floridians should reflect on past actions by the administration, helped by a supportive, Republican-dominated Legislature.
“It is a wide-ranging, expensive assault on civil liberties,” Simon said.
The Palm Beach Post reported last year that taxpayers had spent at least $900,000 on private lawyers, filing fees, expert witnesses and other costs associated with lawsuits against the administration. Simon said Thursday that four of the cases remain at various levels of appeal by the administration.
Simon said that while ACLU has tangled with Florida governors in the past — notably former Gov. Jeb Bush — the number of lawsuits pales compared to those filed in the first two years of the Scott administration.
ACLU has challenged Scott over executive orders or legislation involving voting rights, religious freedom, abortion rights, judicial oversight, freedom of speech, and proposed drug-testing of public employees and welfare recipients.
Three proposed constitutional amendments defeated by voters last fall that would have affected the courts, public money flowing to religious organizations, and reproductive rights shows Floridians don’t support many of the approaches taken by the administration and Legislature, Simon said.
While ACLU has been successful in getting courts to halt many of the Scott-backed requirements, voting law changes in place last fall led to long lines at Florida polling places and difficulties by elections supervisors tabulating ballots, Simon said. Scott and legislators are now proposing changes and have voiced concerns about problems encountered by voters.
Simon, however, likened Scott’s reaction to news of problems to that of the character Capt. Renault in the film classic Casablanca, who was “shocked” to discover gambling at establishments he had allowed it to flourish.
“That all came about as a direct consequence of the policy they enacted,” Simon said of Scott and lawmakers.
Looking ahead to the 2013 legislative session, ACLU attorneys said Thursday that the organization intends to promote several criminal justice changes, including death penalty provisions that would require unanimous agreement by juries recommending capital punishment.