Matt Gaetz introduces ‘Scalia amendment’

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State Rep. Matt Gaetz has introduced his own amendment to a judicial term-limits bill that will be before the House Tuesday, inspired by the debate over naming a successor to the late U.S. Supreme Court Antonin Scalia.

That amendment reads in part: “…if a justice of the (state) supreme court dies within one year before the term of the governor expires, that justice may not be replaced without the consent of the Florida Senate, until the governor whose term commences after expiration of the term of the governor in office when the justice died appoints a successor justice.”

Congressional Republicans and some GOP presidential candidates have said President Barack Obama should forgo selecting a replacement for Scalia because the two-term president is in his last year in office.

They would rather take a chance that a Republican is elected to the White House this year and gets to name an equally conservative replacement for the 79-year-old jurist, who died Feb. 13.

Under the legislation (HB 197), sponsored by Republican state Rep. John Wood of Winter Haven, district court of appeal judges and state Supreme Court justices would be limited to 12 years on the bench, or two six-year terms.

Florida House Republicans in particular have been smarting with the state’s highest court over what they say are overly liberal interpretations of law by most of its justices.

For example, GOP members stewed over the court’s ordering that Florida’s congressional and state Senate districts had to be redrawn, saying legislative leaders had unconstitutionally gerrymandered them to favor fellow party members.

The current court often splits 5-2, with conservative Justices Ricky Polston and Charles Canady in the minority.

Justices and appellate judges now can serve virtually unlimited six-year terms, after appointment by the governor, until mandatory retirement at age 70. Such judges must stand every six years for yes-or-no “merit retention votes” that no judge has lost since the system began in the 1970s.

Of the current benchJames E.C. Perry faces mandatory retirement in 2017, and Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy A. Quince face mandatory retirement in 2019.

Gov. Rick Scott leaves office in January 2019.

Canady and Polston will stand for merit-retention election this year, as will Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.