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State of Florida

History of Reform Efforts: Florida

Unsuccessful Reform Efforts

Voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have extended merit selection and retention to trial court judges.

The senate approved a merit selection and retention bill for trial court judges, but the house failed to act on the measure. During a special legislative session in the same year, the proposed reforms received majority support but failed by two votes to achieve the required two-thirds support for a constitutional amendment. In a subsequent special session, the measure again failed in the senate despite a favorable majority vote.

The legislature passed a bill requiring the governor to consider the race, ethnicity, and gender of nominees when making appointments to the judicial nominating commissions and requiring that each circuit nominating commission include at least one resident from each county within the circuit. The governor vetoed the bill, primarily because of practical problems with the residency requirement.

According to a 1998 constitutional amendment, the option of merit selection and retention of trial judges was submitted to voters in each county, but it was overwhelmingly rejected in every jurisdiction. The average affirmative vote was 32%.

Proponents of merit selection and retention emphasized the number of disciplinary actions against elected judges and the potential for campaign contributions to tarnish the judiciary, while opponents stressed the right to vote for judges and the "closed door, elite" nature of the merit selection process. The Florida Bar spent $80,000 to promote the ballot measure, and another group, Citizens for Judicial Integrity, raised $37,000. The measure also received support in numerous editorials. Opposition to the measure came from the state's minority and women's bar associations, who worried that their gains on the bench would be diminished under merit selection. Members of these organizations formed Citizens for an Open Judiciary and spent approximately $75,000. Both sides offered speakers to address public gatherings and participate in debates. Two debates were sponsored by the American Bar Association and the American Judicature Society.