Florida Legislators Propose What Some Label Another Court-Packing Plan

March 14, 2014

The terms of three members of Florida's seven-member supreme court are set to expire at the same time that the next Florida governor's term expires—on January 8, 2019. A fourth justice will retire on January 2017. (The state's mandatory judicial retirement age is 70, but justices may complete their six-year terms after turning 70.)

Recognizing that state law is unclear as to whether the outgoing or incoming governor has the authority to fill judicial vacancies that occur on inauguration day, a Republican senator has offered a proposed constitutional amendment that would empower the outgoing governor to make these appointments. Senator Tom Lee believes the amendment is necessary to avoid a “constitutional crisis,” but others say the proposal would allow the governor elected in 2014 to “pack the state Supreme Court.”

SJR 1188 was voted out of the senate judiciary committee on March 11.

For many Democrats, the proposal calls to mind a handful of anti-court efforts in 2012, including a failed constitutional amendment that would have required senate confirmation of supreme court appointments and a challenge to three Democrat-appointed justices standing for retention. 2011 saw a legislative attempt to split the supreme court into two courts of five members each, with one to hear only civil cases and one to hear criminal cases. Governor Rick Scott would have named three new justices to the civil court, but the proposal stalled.