Must-read: Martin Dyckman on the right wing’s desperate attempt to control the Fla. Supreme Court

in Uncategorized by

 Now you know — as if there was ever doubt — why the right wing is desperate to take over the Florida Supreme Court.

Why there’s a constitutional amendment on the ballot to let Gov. Rick Scott pack the court if he is re-elected.

The Supreme Court itself illustrated the reasons late Tuesday afternoon when it overturned an atrocious lower court decision that would have made an exercise in futility out of the congressional redistricting trial under way in Tallahassee.

The atrocity at issue was last week’s decision of the First District Court of Appeal that said in effect to the people of Florida: Drop dead.

(A better two-word phrase comes to mind, but it can’t be printed.)

One of the most deplorable decisions in Florida’s history, it said that the “trade secrets” of a Republican consultant trump the public’s constitutional right to fair representation in Washington. With some 500 documents in dispute, the district court told the trial judge he couldn’t even consider them in his ruling.

The Supreme Court overturned that but let stand, for now, a prohibition against sharing the documents with the public.

Had the lower court’s ruling remained intact, it would have nullified the fair districting initiatives that the voters approved emphatically four years ago over the bitter-end opposition of the tinhorn tyrants running the Legislature.

Their successor tyrants could now simply outsource the entire dirty work of gerrymandering to some reliable consultant, and no court would ever be able to uncover the political schemes protected by those “trade secrets.”

That kind of chicanery is what the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and 11 individual plaintiffs are trying to prove in the trial before Circuit Judge Terry Lewis. There must be some really hot smoking guns in those documents.

Surely the First District’s three-judge panel was mindful of that.

And perhaps it wasn’t too far from their minds that Scott, who’s got to love what they said, may get to appoint those four new justices.

The First District’s grotesque decision is a preview of the future of justice throughout Florida if governors can continue packing the judiciary with judges chosen for politics or obedience. That has plainly been done to the First District, where all three the judges who signed the horrible order were appointed by Republican governors Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist and Scott.

The right wing already has a foothold in the Supreme Court itself. With Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justice Charles Canady, ordinary citizens almost never have any rights that the courts are bound to respect. They dissented again Tuesday on the grounds that their court lacked the authority to give the League emergency relief.

It was Crist who promoted Canady and Polston from the First District, where Bush had appointed them. To Crist’s credit, however, he subsequently appointed two moderates to the Supreme Court.

When the Judicial Nominating Commissions were independent, they usually favored experienced litigators or trial judges for promotion to the appeals courts. There was no advantage in a political resume.

But since the 2001 Legislature let the governors appoint all the members of every nominating commission, the panels have become Republican patronage committees.

This isn’t just my opinion. It’s the overwhelming consensus of Florida lawyers who responded to an urgent survey by a Florida Bar task force looking into the dwindling numbers of minorities and women who serve as judges or members of nominating commissions.

Among lawyers with an opinion, more than 77 percent said that partisan politics outweigh merit in selecting members for the nominating commissions.

That would explain why so few minorities are getting appointed. They tend to be Democrats.

Scott has now rejected 18 different lists of lawyers recommended by the Bar to serve on nominating commissions.

Among those who had applied to be JNC members, nearly two thirds said politics rule.

More than 82 percent of African-American lawyers and 55 per cent of Hispanics said that lawyers like them don’t have a fair chance to help select judges.

On the other hand, 78 percent of the members of those nominating commissions denied that politics got them the responsibility.

“Anyone who cares deeply about merit selection of judges or about diversifying Florida’s judiciary, and everyone who cares about both, should consider these data, and the difference of opinion about them, alarming,” said the report.

The Bar’s Board of Governors approved the report and its recommendations Friday — by coincidence just one day after the disaster at the First District. Most of the media ignored the story.

The recommendations largely depend on asking Rick Scott to be nice.

We’ll soon see how well that works. He’s expected to make 78 JNC appointments next month.

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Waynesville, North Carolina. Column courtesy of Context Florida.