TALLAHASSEE — A Florida state representative filed a proposed constitutional amendment in late January that would place term limits on Florida Supreme Court justices.
According to a report by News4Jax, the proposal — made by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, on Jan. 25 — also includes appeals-court judges and would prevent the parties from going on the ballot if they have already served 12 years in their current positions. The proposal is known as House Joint Resolution 1.
“No government job should be for life,” Sullivan told the Florida Record. “When lifespans were 50-60, it may have made sense, but if you occupy an office for 40 years it's clear that a mindset develops where one believes themselves to be bigger than the office they hold or more important to government than they are, and that's unacceptable.”
If the proposal is approved by the Legislature, voters will decide on the measure in 2018, according to News4Jax. Currently, Florida does not limit a judge’s number of times they can be placed on a ballot, but they do have a mandatory retirement age of 70, give or take a few years depending on the judge or justice’s birthday.
“The HJR does not change the retirement age,” Sullivan said.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, has been pushing the issue, as previously reported by the Florida Record. Other representatives have proposed alternatives as well. Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, filed a proposal — SJR 482 — would hold Supreme Court justices to two full six-year terms, while appellate judges in district courts would be limited to three terms.
“There is always room for compromise,” Sullivan said. “I think the House would have to be shown how 18 years as a (District Court of Appeal) judge, then possibly 12 as a (Supreme Court) justice didn't create a de facto lifetime spot on the bench.”
Sullivan explains that the current law does not require justices to be of a certain age, but Hudson is proposing that lawyers would have to be a minimum of 50 years of age to serve on the Supreme Court or court of appeals.
“Current law does not propose a minimum,” Sullivan said.
The issue of age restrictions isn’t a new conversation. Many publications — including The Atlantic — have written about the age of the U.S. Supreme Court justices. “Life tenure is too long for Supreme Court justices” was the title of a June 2005 article by The Atlantic. Slate wrote a similar article in 2013, stating the same argument.
Sullivan represents Florida's 31st District, which includes most of Northern Lake and Orange counties. She is the youngest woman to ever be voted into the house, when she won the seat in 2014 at the age of 23, according to Orlando Sentinel. She recently won her re-election against no-party affiliate Robert Rightmyer, winning with 73.2 percent of the vote according to the New York Times.