The following is an OPO Contribution from Michael Melli a law student at Florida State University. If you have a contribution you would like considered for publication, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Governor Scott has brought an outsider’s mindset to the Governor’s mansion from the moment of his inauguration almost seven years ago. Despite bucking the Florida political establishment at every turn, Florida’s economy survived the recession and is still thriving today. However, Scott’s penchant for breaking with tradition is crossing a line when it comes to the Florida Supreme Court.
When Judge Perry announced his retirement earlier this year, Tallahassee was buzzing with speculation about Scott’s first appointment to the State Supreme Court. After all, Scott has made clear his passion for tossing tradition; Floridians had every reason to expect some drama.
Enter Judge C. Alan Lawson. Upon Scott’s announcement of the Judge Lawson’s nomination, the Florida political elite drew a collective sigh of relief. Lawson is a devout conservative, highly principled and even a Governor Bush appointee. All the talk of an outsider attorney or populist maverick nominee was silenced.
However, shortly after the nomination, Governor Scott quickly made clear his intention to fill the three upcoming vacancies on his own as he leaves office. “I will appoint three more Justices on the morning I finish my term,” Scott stated. Justices Lewis, Pariente, and Quince all face mandatory retirement the day the next Governor-elect is sworn in and Governor Scott leaves office.
The Florida Supreme Court boasts a proud cooperative history, with countless stories of bipartisanship. Governor Chiles and then incoming Governor-elect Jeb Bush worked together in 1998 to appoint Justice Quince, crossing party lines to get the vacancy filled with a nominee each side could accept.
Governor Scott is doing more than differing from tradition by appointing the three Justices; Scott is tarnishing the very reputation of the Florida Supreme Court, insulting his party and their voters, and will undoubtedly cost the taxpayers millions.
Scott is failing to give his party the benefit of the doubt to win the Governor’s mansion in 2018. Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, a GOP favorite and one of the few potential GOP candidates, has been raising money and increasing his profile and name recognition across the State in preparation. The Democrats have a crowded primary, including Rep. Gwen Graham, Mayors Buckhorn, Gillum, Seiler, and even attorney John Morgan. Does Governor Scott not have faith in his own party, his new home state or it’s voters to win in 2018?
From the moment he announces his three names, the legitimacy of their nomination and their entire career on the court will be under scrutiny. Their tenure on the bench would be marred, every decision made will be met with skepticism and dismissal over the legitimacy of their appointment. Florida and it’s voters deserve a Supreme Court working on their behalf, unmarred by whispers of illegitimacy. The taxpayers are not funding a vanity project, but a bastion of bipartisan law and order.
Further, 2016 saw what was perhaps the most divisive election in modern history. Campaign vitriol has not passed, and there can be no doubt the Florida Democratic Party and even some moderate Republicans will be incensed by Scott’s actions. Scott’s decision will undoubtedly end up before a court. House Minority Leader Cruz (D-Tampa) has already vowed to fight the Governor. All at the taxpayers expense.
Governor Scott has been a trendsetter and in some ways made a blueprint for how President-elect Trump should govern and transition, however, his upcoming judicial appointments are a step too far. Scott did not dodge the subject nor did he even mention his eagerness to work with the next Governor-elect. Scott’s vanity will insult the Florida GOP, the Floridian taxpayer, and the very integrity of the Florida Supreme Court.