Senate Redistricting Invalidated, Cue Calls to Fire Justices

by Kemp Brinson

The Florida Supreme Court has ordered their sister branches of government to re-redistrict Florida Senate districts, finding that the new districts violate the ”Fair Districts” amendment to the Flirida Constitution passed in 2010. House Districts were left alone. Press coverage abounds, e.g., see The Ledger.

The opinion of the court is a monster, weighing in at 234 double-spaced pages: Download Opinion.

The Court split 5-2 on the senate districts. (The house districts were unanimously upheld.) The two dissenting justices were the traditionally ”conservative” Justices Canady, from Lakeland, and Polston. 

Republicans will probably decry this decision as the action of judicial activists interfering with the will of the legislature. Lakeland Republicans may give a cautious theoretical wink to the Justice from the home team while sighing with relief that Lakeland may not lose legislative clout after all.

Democrats will likely offer the decision up as a crowning example of checks and balances in action. Should the political winds blow left in the future, that alignment might reverse itself, while the votes of the justices, I hope, wouldn’t, all other factors being equal.

I won’t be prepared to throw my two cents in on that debate until I’ve read the opinion.

But regardless of who reads it, I am curious whether this decision will become fodder for calls to unseat the so-called “liberal” justices in the majority. Three of them, Justices Pariente, Quince, and Lewis, are up for an up-or-down retention vote this year. If enough people vote to remove them, they’re gone. Efforts were afoot in 2010 to do the same to Justices Labarga and Perry — they failed; both justices kept their jobs. The same outfit appears to be gearing up again: Restore Justice.

A competing organization, calling itself Floridians for Fair and Impartial Courts, is making efforts to protect the incumbent judges, who are ethically prohibited from directly campaigning for themselves.

A lot of people I know and respect have very short-sighted reasons for how they vote on judicial retention elections (always yes, always no, always blank), with the most commonly cited difficulty often being the lack of accessible information about judges. That’s fair, but at the very least the public can review the information offered by these competing groups. It’s not a lot, not yet anyway, but it’s at least a starting point.

And yes, I know I haven’t written anything in a while. I had a sick kid today, so I had some quiet time at home away from the office and the bug bit again. Maybe it will keep biting. We’ll see.