ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A report by
the Florida Access to Justice Project reveals the increase in
special-interest spending in higher-court races and makes
recommendations to ensure residents a fair justice system.
to the report’s findings
Business Review, special-interest spending more than doubled in
the last decade and topped $56.4 million in state higher court races
across the country in 2011 and 2012.
The Florida Access to Justice
Project released the report to draw attention to the political
influences in the court and the need for judicial reform to better
serve the residents of Florida.
“It is critical that the
judiciary remain insulated from political and special interests,”
the report stated.
“These influences negatively impact the diversity and objectivity
of our courts and Floridians’ access to fairness and justice.”
the 2012 Florida Supreme Court retention races, about $5 million was
spent — with 70 percent of that amount coming from outside groups,
according to the report.
Damien Filer with the Florida Access to
Justice Project emphasized the growing concerns with political
influence in the courts and climate surrounding the role of the
“Our system of checks and balances was designed in such
a way that the role of courts is to ensure that actions by the
executive and legislative branches are constitutional,” Filer told
the Florida Record. “This separation of powers is necessary
to protect our rights against any over-reaching by the other
The group is also voicing opposition to legislation
recently introduced in Florida that would give lawmakers the ability
to strike down a court ruling with a two-thirds majority vote.
that Florida Legislature “has repeatedly attacked the courts …
because of court decisions that have thwarted the legislature’s
attempts to amend our state constitution in unconstitutional
According to FloridaPolitics.com,
the legislation proposed by Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, would
allow Florida lawmakers with a two-thirds majority to overturn a
judicial ruling that found any state law or legislation act
unconstitutional. The proposal is waiting for the new 2017
legislative session to begin in March and if it passes, the proposal
would go to the voters.
“The Legislature can't just decide to
overturn the courts and make their acts constitutional,” Flier
said. “That would be the equivalent of the governor enforcing a
veto even if the Legislature overrode it. Separation of powers and
checks and balances between the three branches of government may
frustrate some leaders, but that's no justification for upending this
cornerstone of American government."
In addition to
highlighting dramatic increased special-interest spending and
influence in judicial races, the report
made nine recommendations for improving the current status of
Florida’s courts, which includes lengthening the terms for judges.
The group argues that lengthening the terms will reduce the frequency
of retention races and decrease the influence of special interest
The group also advocates reforms such
as increasing opportunities for community involvement, increasing
diversity among the judges to reflect Florida’s diverse population,
and requiring judicial-performance evaluations.