I’m voting “yes” to retain the 3 justices of the Florida Supreme Court who are up for a retention vote this year — and I urge the readers of this blog to do the same. That may seem out of line with the general non-political/non-partisan tone of this blog. It’s not. Let me explain.
Why am I supporting retention of these justices?
First, because I believe that Justice Lewis, Justice Pariente, and Justice Quince, like their colleagues, are good, impartial jurists that have served our state well and will continue to do so. I read every opinion that the Florida Supreme Court releases. All of these justices have authored and joined decisions I agree with, and all have authored and joined decisions I disagree with. What that tells me is NOT that they’re right sometimes (when I agree with them) and wrong sometimes (when I disagree with them) but that they’re fair all of the time. Having practiced law in other states, I am of the firm opinion that Florida is blessed to have such fair and qualified justices sitting on our highest court.
But it’s not just about these particular justices themselves. I’m also voting to retain these justices because in doing so, I’m voting for the continuation of the appellate judge selection process put in place decades ago in our state, which has worked better than any other system I know of.
In that selection process, applicants for judicial vacancies are screened by a judicial nominating commission made up of lawyers and laypersons from all sides of the aisle. They select a handful of candidates that are most qualified on the basis of merit — experience, education, community involvement, temperament, etc. — not politics. The governor then selects who will serve from that handful of candidates. After the appointee has served for a period of time, Florida voters get to vote in retention elections to decide whether the justice or appellate judge should continue to serve.
Retention elections are supposed to be, and have historically been, non-partisan. Judges and justices are required to run on a non-partisan basis, not as a candidate of any party. I believe that is the way it should be.
Selecting and retaining judges and justices on the basis of merit is the best way to build a smart, well-qualified judiciary. Selecting and retaining judges and justices without consideration of political parties or interests is the best way to build a fair judiciary.
And it is the best way to ensure that judges and justices are free to decide cases independently, without fear of retribution from powerful politicians. It seems to me that the organized opposition to retention this year boils down to that: some powerful politicians didn’t like certain Supreme Court rulings against them. They’d rather have their own people on the court.
Florida used to have partisan judicial elections. It didn’t work well, elevating political savvy over impartiality and merit. When enough scandals resulted, our electorate opted for a non-partisan/non-political system. It works well.
By voting to retain Supreme Court Justices who are qualified and fair, I’ll be voting in favor of a judiciary that espouses those attributes. And I’ll be rejecting an attempt to return our state to the days when the selection of appellate judges and justices was driven by partisan politics.