Here’s a riddle for Florida voters: who wears a black robe, is sitting on a stack of a million greenbacks, and has a red face because voters get to decide whether or not they keep their jobs?
To be fair, this is a trick question. The answer is actually three people: Supreme Court Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince. The three of them are sitting on a combined political war chest of over a million dollars, given to them by special interest groups, trial lawyers and political activists. And they are red-faced with anger that voters get to decide their fate at the ballot box.
The Republican Party of Florida took the unprecedented step of voting to oppose the retention of these three justices. And almost immediately, their political allies went into attack mode, accusing Florida Republicans of crashing a party that only the Bar Association, trial lawyers and special interest groups were invited to attend.
It is important to note that the decision to oppose these justices came in the form of a unanimous vote of the executive board of the Republican Party of Florida, which took place after a grassroots groundswell raised the issue ahead of a board meeting. And while these judges and their political allies have attempted to drag Gov. Scott into the fray and blame him for the decision of the RPOF executive board, they couldn’t be more out of touch with reality. The idea came from the grassroots of the party — people who are fed up with these justices — and the governor had nothing to do with it.
The grassroots opposition to these judges stems from a long list of cases in which these justices have injected their own political views into their rulings. Thankfully, for a time such as this, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment by an overwhelming margin that requires Supreme Court justices to face the music.
Predictably, the political allies of these justices, including the Florida Bar Association, are crying foul because Lewis, Pariente and Quince now have to campaign on their performance record. Their political strategy is to accuse the RPOF of “injecting politics” into their elections while at the same time, pretending that these are “independent judges” who are above politics of any sort.
But a major ally of these justices, the Bar Association, only pretends to be above politics. Recently, when President Obama criticized the United States Supreme Court ahead of a major ruling, the supposedly apolitical Bar Association decided to exercise their right to remain silent. But again, here in Florida, they are complaining when Republicans criticize their candidates.
The charge of “injecting politics” into what is already an issue before the voters is nonsense of the highest order. Judges in Florida are appointed by politicians. They decide political cases all the time. And they take political contributions, lots of them. In fact, for years, long before the Republican Party of Florida voted to oppose them last week, these justices have been busy raising money by holding political fundraisers, cashing check after check from politically active donors, lobbyists, unions and other special interest groups.
Justice Barbara Pariente has personally collected more than $350,000 so far, while Justices Quince and Lewis each took more than $330,000 in political cash this election cycle. And frankly, there is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is their disingenuous attempt to portray themselves as “above politics,” when they are mired in it and it permeates their very existence.
What’s more, everyone — the Republican Party of Florida included — agrees that these justices should be able to render legal opinions that transcend their political beliefs. But that is exactly the problem. Grassroots members of the RPOF believe these justices have failed in this duty, which is why voters must carefully consider whether they deserve another six years on the bench. And everyone has a right to free political speech, even Supreme Court justices.
But the bottom line is, the voters get to decide if these justices keep their jobs. If these judges and their allies don’t like having to face the voters, they have every right to try to change the law.
Lenny Curry, Chairman, Republican Party of Florida