Once again the Florida Legislature can’t seem to keep its collective hands off the separate and co-equal branch of government, the judiciary.
In this latest power grab to usurp constitutional duties that belong in the courts or with the executive branch, the Legislature put on the Nov. 6 ballot Amendment 5.
• Give legislators power over the rules that govern the operation of courts.
• Weaken the governor’s ability to appoint qualified justices to the Supreme Court by requiring Senate confirmation.
• Allow the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives to review confidential files of a Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) without there having to be an impeachment hearing, as is now required.
The proposed amendment alters the balance of power among the three branches, a balance that has worked well.
So we must ask: Why attempt to “fix” what isn’t broken?
The governor now appoints judges for openings in the courts through a qualifications system. There are 26 Judicial Nominating Commissions to represent the judicial circuits, and those contain nine members each.
A circuit’s JNC is made up of three lawyers appointed by the Board of Governors of the Florida Bar, three voters appointed by the governor, and those six select three more members. All members of a JNC must live in the judicial circuit where there’s an opening. It’s representative and free from legislative meddling.
The current system of selecting candidates for the bench is an exhaustive process of interviews and questionnaires, and it delivers highly qualified candidates for the governor to consider for judgeships.
Amendment 5 would inject the Senate into the selection process of justices.
There’s no need to infuse more politics into a process that, despite some warts, has worked well the past 40 years after Florida voters gave the nod to the JNC process and retention elections for appellate judges. This ended decades of corruption at the highest levels.
The proposed amendment also would allow the Legislature to repeal a JNC rule or procedural court rules — say, deadlines for filing court documents or risk having a case tossed, or time limits to ensure a constitutional requirement for a “speedy trial” — by a simple majority vote.
Right now, such rules can be changed by the Legislature only by a two-thirds vote, thus ensuring a check but also a balance on the powers of each branch of government.
Amendment 5 simply is a political power play by Tallahassee pols backed by special interests attempting to change the balance of power. The Miami Herald recommends: Vote No.
Florida’s public universities are part of the State University System, overseen by a 17-member Board of Governors. Ten of the state’s 11 universities (Florida State University is the exception) now participate in the Florida Student Association, and the president of that body is an automatic member of the Board of Governors (BOG).
Because Florida State does not want to pay association dues, its student president can never be a member of BOG.
Amendment 12 would create a new council of student presidents for BOG to select from. This seems to be an amendment to placate FSU. It’s not an issue that should go before voters. Vote No.