A “Smear Campaign” or Judicial Accountability
August 14, 2012
The Palm Beach Post joins the chorus of elite opinion makers who are terrified the people of Florida will rise up and dump three state Supreme Court justices under fire for activist decisions and for using state employees to help file election papers. Along with the usual hand-wringing, the editorial suggests that retention elections are “designed to remove judges because they are unfit to serve, not because people don’t like their rulings.” This is manifestly untrue.
There are ample mechanisms in place to discipline Florida judges for misconduct that are totally unrelated to retention elections. According to the American Judicature Society, Florida judges can be disciplined in several ways, including impeachment by the state House and conviction by the Senate or by a recommendation by the independent Judicial Qualifications Commission, which was established for the sole purpose of investigating misconduct by state judges. The Commission is responsible for investigating misconduct complaints and can recommend disciplinary measures ranging from a public reprimand to removal from office.
So if retention elections are not designed to pass judgment on a judge’s fitness for office, what exactly are they for? The obvious answer, which only legal elites and their media allies contest, is to hold judges accountable to the people they serve. Jesse Phillips, President of Restore Justice, puts it best:
“We have a voice in our court system. Nationally, we choose the president and members of the U.S. Senate and give them the ability to nominate and confirm judges. In Florida, we choose whether to keep judges based on their job performance …”
“The [Florida] court … has weakened its independence by adopting legislative power, enacting policies not vetted by accountable, elected officials that go beyond what the Florida Constitution says….Accountable judges may think twice before interfering with the legitimate business of the people that we actually elect.”
When editorial boards or members of the legal aristocracy claim that judges can only be removed for corruption or misconduct, what they’re really trying to do is to bully voters into keeping activist judges on the bench. The real threat to judicial independence comes from activist judges, not from the people who are trying to hold them accountable.