Defenders of embattled Florida Supreme Court justices begin to make their case

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In the political battle over the future of three members of the Supreme Court, opponents and supporters of the trio are still arguing over what the terms of the debate should be, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

The fight is unfolding as part of the “merit retention” elections that will decide the future of Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis — who form the backbone of a Supreme Court majority seen by many as more liberal than the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.

On a conference call Tuesday, supporters of the targeted judges said the merit retention process, created in the wake of a series of scandals that rocked the Supreme Court in the 1970s, was meant to insulate the court from political pressures. Merit retention elections, where voters simply vote about whether an appointed judge should keep his or her job, replaced a system where judges were directly elected and faced opponents.

Former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero, who was appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush and chairs Pariente’s retention effort, said voters should only vote to remove justices if they are involved in malfeasance or other wrongdoing.

“If we start using the merit retention process as a political vehicle, then we are turning the judiciary into another political branch of government, which the Founding Fathers of our country did not intend to do and specifically intended to avoid,” Cantero said.

Much of the fire was trained on a group known as Restore Justice 2012, which has run a campaign portraying the justices as liberal activists who need to be turned out of office. Last week, Restore Justice released a score card on the judges that gave each of them an “F” in six categories — save Lewis, who drew a “D” instead on efforts to rein in “junk lawsuits.”

But former Republican Sen. Alex Villalobos said the effort was more about trying to turn out judges who wouldn’t vote with “special interests.” And he lampooned one basis for the report card — that the judges should have rewritten a ballot summary for a constitutional amendment after finding that the summary approved by lawmakers was deceptive.

Instead, the judges tossed the amendment, which was in opposition to President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul, from the November 2010 ballot.

“What is ironic to me is that this court is being accused of being activist because they refused to be activist,” he said.

But Jesse Phillips, who leads Restore Justice 2012, defended the group’s report card. He said Supreme Court precedent allowed the justices to strike the ballot language from the health-care amendment and just put the entire amendment before voters.

And he dismissed the idea that voters should disregard a judge’s record when voting.

“The best way to decide whether a judge is a good one or not is, look at their decisions,” he said.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.