Bench Memos

Florida Could Have Three New State Supreme Court Justices

Florida Supreme Court Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince are up for retention election this November.  As Carrie Severino pointed out last April, each of these three incumbents somehow missed Don Rumsfeld’s advice that in order to win on Election Day your name needs to be on the ballot.  During oral arguments in an extended two-hour session on one of the most important cases to come before the Florida high court in over a decade, the court broke away from the argument so the three justices could have a fighting chance to file the correct paperwork before the noon deadline.  If these justices are not on the November ballot, the governor will appoint their replacements to the seven-member court.

On Monday, two Floridians represented by the Southeastern Legal Foundation filed suit to keep these three justices off the November ballot, arguing that holding an emergency campaign meeting on government property and using government employees to help with campaign paperwork are violations of state law.  Among other things, the suit also alleges that all three justices failed to properly certify for the ballot and that Justices Lewis and Quince failed to properly disclose gifts and assets on the required disclosure forms.  

Having filled out many such forms during my various government positions, I can tell you these documents make federal tax returns look simple, but the deadline is always very clear. Further, these are not some low-level officials but rather justices of the highest court in the state.  As Florida Governor Rick Scott has said, “It’s the Supreme Court.  They should comply with the law.” One wonders what these three justices would have done if a criminal conviction of having an emergency campaign meeting on government property and using state employees for campaign paperwork was appealed to them.  My guess is that they would not have been terribly understanding.  


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