Former Supreme Court Justice Major B. Harding, who was appointed by Chiles and served for 11 years, warned that, after this election, all future decisions could be perceived to be tainted by politics.
“My concern is the potential this might have on the perception of fairness of the court in its decision making process,’’ he said.
Stanley Tate, the longest-serving member of the Judicial Qualification Commission and a prominent Republican, said he called RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry on Monday and urged him to rescind the vote.
“Any good attorney will tell you they want their judge to be a good attorney, not a good Republican,’’ he said. “I’m hoping the general public will disavow the decision by the Republican Party. I think they made a mistake,’’ he said.
Florida’s top elected Republicans, however, did not condemn or condone the decision. Gov. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz each said they were not consulted by the party before the vote but would not say whether they supported it.
Lewis, Pariente and Quince have each been under fire from Republicans before, when they were on the prevailing side of the Bush v. Gore decision that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. But each has also faced a merit retention vote in 2006 and survived. During that vote, the RPOF remained silent.
This time, the party pointed to a controversial 2003 opinion in which the Florida Supreme Court reversed a conviction for murderer Joe Elton Nixon and ordered a new case. The court held that because Nixon’s attorney said he was guilty without Nixon’s express consent that he should be given a new trial.
Lewis argued in his dissenting opinion that the court applied the wrong standard. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with him, overturned the decision in 2004, applied the appropriate standard and the Florida Supreme Court agreed. Nixon was never released and remains on death row.
In its statement on Friday, the RPOF accused all three justices of voting in favor of it. Lewis chastised the party for getting its facts wrong.
The party’s executive committee either didn’t do its homework, or "it’s an attempt to force upon us an ideological opinion, damn the truth,’’ he said. "I don’t know whether to mock their incompetence or address the dishonesty. They say it, and it becomes fact."
Americans for Prosperity said that in addition to the ads to be aired in television markets of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Jacksonville, Daytona Beach and Tallahassee on Tuesday and Wednesday, they will launch a website to provide voters with information on the justices’ records: youbethejudgefl.com.
The 30-second ad accuses the court of rejecting a constitutional amendment written by the Legislature that would serve as a referendum on the Affordable Care Act on the November ballot. The justices ruled that the non-binding amendment included a misleading summary because it made numerous promises such as ensuring “access to health care services without waiting lists.”
When the state acknowledged the summary was misleading, it asked the court to replace the text of the amendment in the summary. The court ruled it did not have the authority to do that.
Alex Villalobos, the former state senator from Miami and president of Democracy at Stake, a nonprofit advocacy group working to support the justices, called the ad misleading.
“They blame the court for the decision but where’s the commercial that blames the Legislature for having done it wrong in the first place?” he asked.
The Legislature subsequently rewrote the amendment and it will be one of several amendments on Florida’s lengthy November ballot.
Tampa Bay Times writer John Barry contributed to this report.