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Legislators delay judicial plan vote

At issue is a proposal that would give the governor more control over the panels that choose court candidates.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- In the latest attempt to give Gov. Jeb Bush more influence over the state courts, Senate lawmakers Tuesday debated a proposal that would allow the conservative governor to stack the panels that nominate candidates to fill judicial vacancies.

Currently, the nine-member judicial nominating commissions submit finalists for the governor to choose from when making appointments from the state Supreme Court on down.

Three of the members are chosen by the Florida Bar and three by the governor; those six then choose the final three members.

Under a proposal by Sen. John Grant, a Tampa Republican who recently sought a judgeship but was passed up by a judicial nominating commission, the panels would expand to 12 members. Half would be chosen by the governor.

After hot debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee put off taking a vote. It did, however, vote to put a constitutional amendment before voters that could make the deliberations of the commissions open to the public.

There are several other measures to give Bush more control over the courts floating around this legislative session, including allowing him to add two new justices to the state Supreme Court.

Grant's measure is supported by the Christian Coalition and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. But opponents say the current system was designed to ensure that politics and ideology are kept out of the process.

"If this passes, for all practical purposes the governor will control the process, and we will get into pure partisan politics," said Neal Roth, president of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers.

Planned Parenthood, which fears that giving Bush more control over the courts could lead to abortion rights erosion, is making the issue a priority.

But supporters said the process already is dominated by politics.

"All we have done is traded Bar politics for state politics," said Rheb Harbison of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

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