Despite a torrent of criticism from both conservatives and liberal lawyers, a House committee on Thursday advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a 12-year term limit on Florida Supreme Court justices and appeal court judges who now can serve until retirement age.
The idea is a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who accuses the Florida Supreme Court of repeatedly "writing whole cloth law" in violation of the separation of powers. If the measure is placed on the November 2018 ballot, it would need 60 percent of the vote to become law. No other state has such steep limits on its highest courts, although Colorado, Mississippi and Nevada have proposed judicial term limits at the appellate level and voters have rejected it .
The House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee voted 8-7, for HJR1, by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora. The measure would not apply to judges currently in office but take effect beginning with anyone who is appointed to the appellate courts beginning in 2019.
Under current law, justices and appeals court judges can serve until they reach the retirement age of 70, but must face voters in an up-or-down merit retention election every six years. Sullivan argued that since no justice or judge has been turned out of office in the last 40 years, the system has not worked as intended.
“An accountability system that does not hold people accountable is not truly accountable,'' she said. "This bill seeks to correct that and give the people of Florida another opportunity to implement the accountability they originally intended to place upon our judicial branch of government."
The Florida Supreme Court, however, does have the power to discipline judges and the Judicial Qualifications Commission recommends who to discipline and remove. Most of the appellate judges that have faced sanctions in the last two decades have resigned before being reprimanded, according to a 2015 report by legislative auditors.
The proposed amendment is opposed by the Florida Bar, former court justices and legal scholars and, this year, the conservative Florida Justice Reform Institute, a judicial advocacy organization that has been on the losing side of many Florida Supreme Court rulings, also voiced its opposition to the bill.