House Speaker Richard Corcoran had an idea in 2012 when three of the Florida's Supreme Court's liberal justices were up for a merit retention vote: raise money to defeat them.
The Land O'Lakes Republican was determined that several decisions that involved the justices who made up the court's majority -- from redistricting to school vouchers, to the death penalty and other issues -- needed to be repealed. He approached business groups seeking their support.
"My pitch was this: that the enemies of business regulations, a good business environment, a small business environment, a good social environment...the enemy is not the House of Representatives, not the state Senate. not the governor. The enemy is the seven individuals who meet in private in black robes,'' Corcoran told the Associated Industries of Florida conference in Tallahassee Monday. "My pitch was three of those justices...do not understand the separation of powers and write whole-cloth law."
Corcoran said he particularly chafed at the court order that required legislators to testify over their intent during the redistricting battles when the court "challenged legislative intent."
He vowed to let the 34 Republicans of his House class, all elected in 2010, carry the argument and spread the message that the justices were "the enemy of the free markets" but they needed to raise "I just need you guys to raise between $3 million and $6 million,'' he said.
He didn't like the response he got from the business groups. They told him that they knew Justice R. Fred Lewis, one of the justices he targeted, and he was a "good guy" and they weren't interested.
Now, Corcoran said, he wants to return to those unnamed business groups in the wake of the court's worker's compensation ruling and ask:" 'Hey, how's Fred Lewis working out for you, now that you're eating a 14.9 percent increase in workers' comp? How's that working out for you?' "
Corcoran wouldn't name the groups but the implication is that the members of AIF, a business-backed lobbyist group, was complicit in retaining the court's majority which this year invalidated the limits on legal fees from the 2003 workers compensation reform. The Office of Insurance Regulation is phasing in a 14.5 percent rate increase as a result.
"If you guys don't recognize what the problem is and you don't try to do something about it, constantly banging down our door in the House to go at that again and again when the real problem is never being addressed is problematic,'' he said.
Corcoran now is in a position to influence the future of the state's highest court by making 9 appointments to the Constitutional Revision Commission, the unique panel that convenes every 20 years to place on the ballot amendments to update the state Constitution. He told reporters Monday he has a litmus test: his appointees must support term limits for Florida Supreme Court justices.
He hopes the commission will focus on fixing "bad decisions by the Supreme Court." Among them: redistricting, school vouchers from the Bush v. Holmes decision, and others.
"Absolutely there is a litmus test,'' he said. "I will not choose one selection that is not a conservative. Conservatives get the separation of powers. Conservatives understand the three roles of the three branches."
Corcoran, who has vowed to be "very transparent" in all he does then joked, with characteristic sarcasm, that his litmus test would be opaque: "very detailed, very complex, very hard to figure out"
Corcoran told reporters that the House and Senate will attempt to reform the workers compensation system again but indicated it may not pass the court's test. "Let's go -- round 72,'' he said.
"It's pretty obvious what is happening here on all issues, not just workers comp,'' he said. "I think they're writing law. That job belongs to the Legislative branch they can interpret the law but they can't write law. They're very good at it, obviously. Look at the predicament we're in: look at redistricting law, social justice issues, criminal justice issues, death penalty issues. business issues. It doesn't matter. It's rampant."
He sees no violation of the separation of powers of his mission to change the court. "I have the absolute freedom to say what I want. I have no constraints by some cannon of ethics that mask my agenda and then have that play itself out in opinions.''
By contrast, he claimed, "everything we do is out in the open. There's no meetings we have that are seven people...coming out with an edict on high that writes whole-cloth law."
Corcoran has other criteria for the powerful panel: he wants his appointees to have past elective experience so they know the game as it relates to putting issues before voters. He will reject anyone who is a traditional "special interest" lobbyist, but is open to consider people who are single issue advocates.