Scott and GOP attack Justice Peggy Quince

caines | 10/18/2012, 5:30 a.m.

If judges become subject to political whims, justice for all will no longer exist

This November, three of the seven justices on Floridas Supreme Court R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince are up for merit-based retention (not reelection). But another related decision must be made by voters on Amendment 5. The amendment is a ballot initiative that seeks to change state law by allowing unprecedented legislative access to confidential court records, giving the State Senate the power to approve would-be Supreme Court Justices and enabling a simple majority to void court rules (instead of the current two-third majority set out by law). Both initiatives all point in the direction of people that want to take advantage of the supermajority Republicans enjoy in the State Legislature. Right-wing groups like Restore Justice 2012 and Americans for Prosperity have been busy trying to get Amendment 5 passed and Justices Lewis, Pariente and Quince ousted. So how does a judge or justice, the very embodiment of the apolitical scales of justice, work against thinly-veiled partisan threats to his or her place on the bench or even the power of the bench itself? After all, campaigning under normal circumstances is not easy given the slippery slope towards subjectivity on the campaign trail. Quince says it isnt easy. That is a real challenge, she said. Because as justices, we are not politicians.

Quinces rise to the bench

For about 40 years, Floridas judicial system has been built on a strenuous vetting process known as merit selection and retention. The merit process requires in-depth inquiries and investigations before a nominating commission sends a list of possible unique fashion. In December 1998, Governor Elect Jeb Bush and outgoing Governor Lawton Chiles made Quince a justice via a joint appointment after being interviewed by both, she explained. The irony of two of Floridas iconic figures in their respective political parties both agreeing on the appointment of Quince to the states highest court, for Quince, indicates that, to a certain extent, the process works. They were both looking for the same things: experience, character and temperament, she said. So what does Quince think about Amendment 5 and its inherent threat to the impartial nature of the state judicial system? She would not offer a personal opinion but did offer a professional observation. As I understand Amendment 5, it is about rule-making, how the Supreme Court makes rules for how the entire court system operates, she said. For example, a rule could outline a certain number of days to do something, establish deadlines, how to present a case. That rule-changing provision of Amendment 5 is curious as it pertains specifically to what Quince calls a rare occurrence. How rare of an occurrence is the Legislature being so averse to a specific rule of court that it found itself as a body compelled to attempt to repeal it? I have been a justice since 1998 and I only remember it happening once, she said. Thus, the question that remains to be answered is: why go through so much trouble to change something that is rarely invoked by the Legislature? Ultimately, the current politicized circumstance is challenging for Quince and her peers. Our judicial system and the selection and retention of judges and justices is non-partisan, said Quince, who explains that the legislature and governor decided [in 1974] that we didnt want our judges subjected to political whims. Why is it that insulation from partisan politics is so important to a judicial system as a pillar of an effective democracy? Quince offered some insight. Judges make hard decisions and they cant always be based on agreement, she said. The courts cannot be lockstep with the other branches that is the beauty of our system. By Jos Prezjperez@miamitimesonline.com