Novice Campaigners, Justices Seek Votes

Oct 8, 2012

It's not what they signed up for. But three justices from the liberal side of the Florida Supreme Court have been turned into politicians by an unusual campaign to remove them from the bench.

All three -- Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince -- face a merit retention vote on the November ballot. That's not the strange part. Periodically, all state Supreme Court justices and judges of the District Courts of Appeal have to ask the voters for permission to continue on the bench.

Merit retention votes are not regular contested elections with opponents. But the losers have to leave and the governor gets to appoint their replacements.

What's unusual this time is the campaign against Lewis, Pariente and Quince. Accusing the three of "judicial activism," the Republican Party and the billionaire Koch brothers are funding the effort to throw them out. It means the justices can't just rest on their records and reputations. They have to campaign.

At a forum  appearance on Friday in Tallahassee, Lewis told the audience the "judicial activism" charge is bogus.

"I think that's demeaning, and I think what it's attempting to do is to raise passions and prejudice," Lewis said. But he also felt compelled to assure opponents that, if he is retained, they'd get the same brand of justice as if they had not voted against him.

"See?" he asked. "There's no vengeance in the law."

All three have survived merit retention votes in the past without having to promise that the process would not corrupt the court.