A proposed constitutional amendment to impose term limits on Florida's appellate judges has cleared the Florida House of Representatives, but the measure appeared all but dead in the Senate, as this News went to press.
The House voted 76-38 on February 24 for HJR 197, with supporters arguing it was a proper and necessary check on the courts and opponents contending it is a crude political payback for the Supreme Court upholding legal challenges and striking down the Legislature's redistricting plans for the Senate and the state's congressional seats.
The Florida Bar is on record as opposing term limits for any level of the judiciary in Florida.
Despite the success in the lower chamber, the Senate's counterpart legislation, SJR 322, was never heard in committee (or on the Senate floor as this News went to press). The upper chamber held its last scheduled committee meetings on February 25 and, under Senate rules, it is very difficult--but not impossible--to consider a bill on the floor that was never considered in committee (it was referred to the Judiciary, Ethics and Elections, and Rules committees).
For the latest information on these measures, visit the Legislative Activity section of the Bar's website at www.floridabar.org.
The bill would limit future appellate judges and justices to two appearances on the merit retention ballot, which would effectively limit their service to between 12 and 15 years, depending when they were initially appointed by the governor.
HJR 197, sponsored by Rep. John Wood, R-Lakeland, passed on a near party-line vote, with three Republican representatives--Rep. George Moraitis of Ft. Lauderdale, Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville, and Rep. Patrick Joseph Rooney, Jr., of West Palm Beach--joining all of the present Democrats in opposing the measure. The final tally easily passed the 60 percent threshold for sending constitutional amendments to the voters.
Rep. Wood said it would restrict governors who could take advantage of the current system by appointing younger appellate judges who then can serve for decades.
"Our system allows for abuse of that gubernatorial privilege where a governor can appoint very young members of the Bar, maybe some in their early 40s, who then serve a very long time, in my opinion, in that important policy-making position," Wood said.
Rep. Larry Metz, R-Groveland, argued there are plenty of experienced trial court level judges--who are not term-limited under the amendment--in Florida who...