Bench Memos

Florida Bar Upset Over Lost Influence

Florida is one of 13 states that use the so-called Missouri Plan to select state supreme-court justices. Consistent with national trends, that process has saddled Florida with a state supreme court that tends to put the agendas of left-leaning special-interest groups ahead of the rule of law.

In 2001 Governor Jeb Bush became one of the first public officials to confront this threat to judicial independence by signing legislation to reduce the influence of the state bar in judicial selection. Those modest reforms didn’t eliminate all of the problems with Florida’s method of selection, but they did do quite a bit to increase accountability in the selection process by giving the governor — an elected official — more say over who gets to serve on the commission that nominates judges.

Well, it turns out that not everyone is crazy about those reforms.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the Florida bar is very upset that Governor Rick Scott has “rejected dozens of attorneys the Bar has nominated to serve on judicial nominating commissions.” Among the rejected lawyers are Tiffany Faddis, a board member of the Florida Justice Association (the trial lawyers), and W.C. Gentry, described as “a member of the legal ‘dream team’ that successfully sued the tobacco industry in the 1990s.”

The reporter seems to believe the liberal talking point that the commission was “created decades ago to professionalize the bench and make merit and qualifications at least as important as political connections.” As I have explained before, the real purpose of these nominating commissions was to allow state bar associations — political special interests themselves — to capture the judicial branch. And, as the empirical literature has shown since then, these commissions have basically pushed state courts to the left without demonstrating any improvement in quality or reductions in the importance of “political connections.” What the Florida bar is truly upset about is their diminishing ability to dictate state policy via friendly judicial appointees.

Carrie Severino — Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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