Saturday, March 31, 2012

Politics: A Phantom Menace

Unless you're a member of the Florida Bar, you've probably never heard of Justice Barbara Pariente. After being a civil litigator for nearly twenty years, she was appointed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court of Florida. She's been an Associate Justice on the Florida Supreme Court since 1997, and, by all accounts, she's done a fine job. Justice Pariente is up for merit retention in this year's election, a simple yes-or-no majority vote that determines whether she is retained as a justice.

There have been whispers of a campaign against Justice Pariente and two of her colleagues by outside forces. Supposedly, some conservative groups are trying to unseat her based on her decision not to allow a ballot measure opposing Obamacare, and will spend big money to urge her ouster. Supporters of the Justices have already set up their own campaign.

To be sure, Florida law provides that Justices serve six-year terms, and must face a merit retention vote at the end of each term. It is not improperly "politicizing" the process to campaign against Justice Pariente, because the process is inherently political - she does not have life tenure like a federal judge. The whole thing is structured so that if her opinions are unpopular, people can kick her out.

That being said, I think Justice Pariente is an extremely skilled jurist (though I might be biased since she hails from where I practice). Barring any "live boys or dead girls in her bed," I'll likely be voting for her retention.


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