How politics can shatter a Healthy Justice System

Okay, it’s that time again – October in a presidential election year. Maybe I should expect that, at least until November, I’m not going to get through a nightly newscast without at least a dozen or so political commercials cautioning that a vote for one candidate is a vote for tripled taxes and a vote for the other will send Big Bird straight to a KFC fryer.

I get it, that’s politics. But when our justice system gets political that’s when we all need to worry.

30 Years ago, Florida had a political high court and with that came spectacular political scandals including charges of litigant-funded gambling junkets; bribery and case fixing for campaign donors. In response, Florida stopped electing its Supreme Court and empowered the Governor to appoint Justices with the appointment terms renewed by “merit retention” elections every 6 years. The system was a model that shielded courts from having politics dictate justice-system decision-making while maintaining accountability.

Fast-forward 30 years and politics is again trampling the notion of a fair and independent judiciary. Eyeing an opportunity to replace 3 “NO” votes with 3 “YES” votes and remove prickly constitutional roadblocks, Governor Scott and the state Republican Party (with financial help from a pair of Kansas oil and gas billionaires) have launched Florida’s first ever party-sponsored initiative to oust and replace Supreme Court justices. This time, though the campaign isn’t about the integrity or competence of the judges (in fact a bar survey shows exceptional approval ratings between 89% – 92% for each of the justices). The fight this time is about who will influence the future of Florida’s judiciary.

I for one say, let’s leave politics to the politicians, leave the Muppets to Frank Oz and leave our high court in its capable hands.

Russel Lazega is an attorney and past president of the North Dade Bar Association. He is also the author of several of Florida’s most widely distributed legal textbooks on Florida Insurance Law and represents accident victims, insurance policyholders and condominium associations throughout the state. Contact:

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