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Amendment Five Proposes Changes to the Courts

The seven-member Florida Supreme  Court poses for a photo in the courtroom.
Florida Supreme Court
Florida Supreme Court

Amendment five does three things. It gives the Senate a chance to confirm new Supreme Court Justices once they’ve been selected by a state judicial nominating committee and appointed by the governor. It makes it easier for the state to change rules about how the court functions and it gives the Speaker of the House access to documents from the judicial qualifications commission used in the review of a judge. The House already has the ability to investigate any charges against a judge.

Some like Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon say the amendment will “restore balance” to the state’s government.  But on the other side, Gwynne Young, president of the Florida Bar, said it will do exactly the opposite—especially the provision that would let the legislature more easily alter rules for how the court operates.

“Under separation of power, this is certainly within the purview of what the court does. And while we believe that the original rule with the two-third's majority provides a pretty high standard for overturning a rule. The change here really lessens that standard,” Young said.

He also says a similar argument could be made that the proposed changes would lead to a more politicized court, much in the same way that merit retention has especially during this election season.  That’s something Florida Supreme Court Fred Lewis said people should think about when they’re casting their ballots this November.

“We’ve seen attempts over the last two or three years to politicize this whole process. And whether it be through legislation, whether it be through proposed constitutional amendments and I think those efforts and those end roads are very dangerous. So People will have to make their own decisions with regard to whether they want to have some of these other things that that amendment proposes,” Lewis said.                           

But David Hart, the executive vice president of the Florida Chamber says he doesn’t a problem with proposed changes and points out new additions to the U.S. Supreme Court are reviewed by the U.S. Senate now. 

“We would be modeling here in Florida exactly the same way it happens at the federal level when the president makes an appointment to the Supreme Court and we’re all familiar as citizens with watching that appointee go to the U.S. Senate through a confirmation process. So it’s really an appropriate check and balance of the branches,” Hart said.

He also said that if groups, like the Florida Bar are concerned about the process, then they should be taking issue with the way the federal government is doing things too. But he says he hasn’t heard anyone talking about that yet.                                       

Meanwhile the state’s upper level officials are keeping a little more tight lipped when it comes to their opinions on the amendments that’ll be on the ballot. Florida Governor Rick Scott has told reporters after a recent cabinet meeting he has no plans to share his views on the amendments – at least not right then.

“I might, but I’m not today,” Scott said.

And Attorney General Pam Bondi said she’s carefully considered all them and while she says she’s in favor of amendment five she isn’t giving details about why that might be. She says she doesn’t want to influence voters when they go to the polls. A total of 11 amendments will be on the ballot in November. 

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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