Politicians who disagree with Supreme Court rulings frequently point out that the justices are “unelected.” That’s true on both the federal and state levels.
Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli echoed that disdain with comments after a majority of Florida Supreme Court justices agreed with an opinion written by Justice Barbara Pariente, who wrote that the House, under Crisafulli’s leadership, “clearly violated the Constitution” when it adjourned three days early. That ruling came in response to a lawsuit by Democrats.
Crisafulli responded in an email to House members that said, “From a legal and traditional standpoint, I believe that one Chamber does not need to seek the permission of the other Chamber to adjourn.”
He pointed out that the Senate often has adjourned for more than 72 hours and he didn’t sue them.
Crisafulli is off the mark on two points. First, it doesn’t matter what he thinks about the legality of his actions. Once the Florida Supreme Court weighs in, Crisafulli’s legal opinion is trumped.
Second, the fact he didn’t sue the Senate is beside the point. Presumably, had he chosen to do so – and should he choose to do so in the future – he would win.
Florida Supreme Court justices are not completely “unelected.” They face merit retention. In any case, the “unelected” criticism shows disdain not only for the courts but for American democracy, which since Marbury vs. Madison has recognized judicial review of legislative actions.
This case, and rare previous cases, have demonstrated that courts sometimes cannot enforce their rulings. President Andrew Jackson supposedly said in one instance when he was on the losing side of a Supreme Court ruling that “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”
The Florida Supreme Court recognized that it would be pointless to try to order Crisafulli and troops back to Tallahassee. So the House’s illegal Sine Die was allowed to take effect.
The irony is that Crisafulli and House members effectively unelected themselves. Voters sent them to Tallahassee to pass a budget, at least. And voters expected them to grapple with a host of other complex issues, including the fight over expanding Medicaid, which the Senate wants to do but the House does not.
House members concluded these tasks were beyond their abilities, and they simply went home. “Thanks for electing us, but we’ve decided not to do the hard work that you sent us here to do.”
That action was a monumental failure of responsibility and temperament. The House disrespected the Senate, and the House disrespected the Florida Supreme Court. Most of all, the House has disrespected itself.
In electing to cut-and-run, House members unelected themselves.