The Florida house has passed a constitutional amendment that would ask voters to impose term limits on appellate judges and state Supreme Court justices. The state Senate has yet to act on this amendment and it has been suggested that the Senate should reject this measure as a blatant assault on the courts.1
This measure would be the first of its kind in the country to force appellate judges and justices out of office after 12 years. For judicial term limits to become part of the Florida constitution, the amendment would have to pass the Senate and then win at least 60% of the vote in the November 2018 general election.
There is no doubt that this is a partisan attack on a nonpartisan branch of government, and the rhetoric about state judges serving for life glosses over the truth. Long term appointments bring stability, consistency, and institutional knowledge to the highest levels of the courts.
Recent state court rulings have invalidated laws covering Worker’s Compensation, abortion rights, capital punishment, and redistricting.
The legislature is wanting to get even. However the Florida bar, business interests, and lawyers on the right and left oppose term limits for appellate judges and justices. They convincingly argue that the brightest trial judges and lawyers will not seek appointments to the appellate bench if they could be pushed out before age 60 and have to start over with no clients or law practice. There would also be a constant turning over of appellate judges because of term limits. This makes no sense.
1 This blog contains excerpts from an editorial of the Tampa Bay Times republished by the Miami Herald on April 5, 2017.