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House Tackles Court Restructuring

April 15th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Last August, the Florida Supreme Court found three amendments authored by state lawmakers misleading, and ordered them removed from the ballot. Today, the state House approved three bills dramatically changing the structure of the state’s highest court. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, if the Senate follows suit, the final decision will still be up to voters.

House Speaker Dean Cannon personally argued before the Supreme Court to keep three amendments on the ballot last year. He Lost. Now Cannon is leading the effort to split the court in two, add three justices, and take away its rule-making authority.

Republicans say the changes will make the court more efficient.

“It’s a complicated state and it’s grown quite a bit since the constitution was originally passed,” Rep. Chris Dorworth (R-Seminole County) said. “So, allowing for that difference, and splitting will allow it to be more efficient.”

The idea is sweetened by increasing court funding. But Democrats say call it what it is: court packing.

“Here we have a Florida Supreme Court that struck down several constitutional amendments passed by the 2010 legislature, over many of our objections,” Rep. Darren Soto (D-Orlando) said. “In the very next session, here we have a bill that is trying to change the make-up of the court.”

The move is reminiscent of 1937, when then-President Franklin Roosevelt tried to add judges to the U.S. Supreme Court to get favorable rulings.

The nation rejected the issue then; but what happens next in Florida is up in the air.

Until now, the effort to split the court has been driven almost entirely by the House Speaker. But this week the Senate got on board, and that makes passage of the proposal more likely.

Even if lawmakers approve the changes, voters will still have the final say in 2012. Unless the court itself does what it did last year, which was to find the legislative amendments unclear and misleading.

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