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Florida Supreme Court merit retention election: Push to change Florida's future is flying under the radar

12:05 PM, Nov 1, 2012   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- There's a push going on to change Florida's future, and it's in a way that some say is sneaky, dishonest, and just plain wrong.

This impacts a whole range of what you care about: education, transportation, your freedoms, and your privacy.

Many people don't even realize three of Florida's Supreme Court justices are on your election ballot: Peggy Quince, Barbara Pariente, and Fred Lewis.

They're the people who make some of the most critical decisions about you and your kids.

And because of a political effort like Florida has never seen, how you mark your ballot means more than ever before.

Like a coffee mug or a cardigan, 35 years ago, Florida's highest court was for sale.

"Florida's elected supreme court was corrupt," said Gwynne Young, a Tampa attorney who's president of the nonpartisan Florida Bar.

"One was charged with bribery. He had taken a 'secret memorandum' on the golf course from one of his campaign contributors."

Young says that scandal-filled, shady system of campaigns and contributions ended in the 70's.

In the 70's, to shake off the stink, Florida started choosing its justices with a panel of nine appointed experts. The governor makes a final decision from a short list of qualified people.

The idea is that every six years, if those justices are doing their jobs and following the law, the people will give them a "yes" vote and keep them in office.

It's called a "merit retention" election. Politics aren't supposed to play a role here.

But this year, that no-politics plan is out the window. 

Restore Justice 2012 is a group working to toss out the three justices on this year's ballot.

Organizers say those justices have made decisions that go against their conservative views, and in their eyes, haven't followed the law or the Constitution. 

Defend Justice from Politics is a group working to keep the three justices.

They say the other group's real goal here is to open up three slots on the Supreme Court that can be filled by Governor Rick Scott.

And they point to a new study funded by a conservative group. It found these justices made fair, principled decisions in nine of their most controversial rulings.

Bar President Young won't take sides on the issue, but she also won't stop warning: Playing politics with the Supreme Court is a fast way to re-create the corrupt nightmare Floridians already lived through once.

"When the U.S. Supreme Court said 'separate but equal' is not good enough, that was not a popular decision. But it was the right decision," Young said.

"We want judges to make decisions that are the right decisions even if they know those decisions are not going to be popular."

Your ballot will ask whether those three justices should be "retained in office." Vote "yes" to keep them on the job. Vote "no" to remove them from office and allow them to be replaced.

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