Florida Supreme Court
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local ballot measures
Court's rulings on ballot measures
In 2008, the court struck three ballot measures from the ballot that had been referred by the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission . The stricken measures were:
In Weber v. Smathers, the court adopted a legal standard that requires a ballot initiative to be "clearly and conclusively defective" before it will be judicially invalidated.
In Adams v. Gunter, the court struck down as unconstitutional an initiative that would have amended the Florida Constitution to change the Florida State Legislature to a unicameral form of legislature. The court's grounds for its decision was that the initiative was a "revision" to the constitution, and was thus too far-reaching and transformative to be enacted as a mere amendment to the constitution.
Jurisdiction, duties, and powers
The jurisdiction of the Florida Supreme Court is laid out in Article V of the Florida Constitution. There are two main types of appellate jurisdiction provided for, mandatory (cases the court must hear) and discretionary (cases the Court may choose to hear if it wishes). In some matters, the Court also has original jurisdiction, meaning that the case can begin and end in the Supreme Court absent a basis for further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court also has some forms of exclusive jurisdiction, meaning that it is the only court or government body that can decide the issue. A detailed account of the Court's jurisdiction is available on its website.
The Florida Constitution, Article V, (3)(b)(1), establishes mandatory jurisdiction for the following:
- Cases in which the death penalty is imposed (but solely to review findings of lower courts on the law, not on the facts). In such instances, the Florida Supreme Court directly reviews Florida Circuit Court decisions, skipping the intermediate Florida District Courts of Appeal ("DCAs").
- Decisions by the DCAs declaring invalid a state statute or constitutional provision.
- The Florida Constitution, Article V, (3)(b)(2), permits the Florida State Legislature to provide for mandatory jurisdiction in the following two circumstances (the legislature has so provided):
- For final judgments on proceedings for validation of bonds or certificates of indebtedness. Here again, the Florida Supreme Court directly reviews circuit court decisions.
- For review of action of statewide agencies relating to rates or service of electric, gas, and telephone utilities.
The Florida Constitution, Article V, (3)(b)(3-5), provides discretionary jurisdiction for a much larger set of circumstances, including:
- DCA decisions expressly declaring a state statute or constitutional provision to be valid
- DCA decisions that expressly affects a class of constitutional/state officers
- DCA decisions that expressly and directly conflict with the decision of another DCA or of the Florida Supreme Court
- DCA decisions that the DCA certifies to be of great public importance
- DCA decisions that the DCA certifies to be in conflict with an opinion of another DCA
- Orders or judgments of trial courts certified by a DCA in which appeal is pending to be of great public importance, or to have a great effect on the proper administration of justice throughout the state, and certified to require immediate resolution by the Supreme Court
- Questions of law certified by the United States Supreme Court or a United States Court of Appeals as determinative of a cause before them, for which there is no controlling precedent by the Florida Supreme Court.
Original nonexclusive jurisdiction
The Florida Constitution further grants the Supreme Court original nonexclusive jurisdiction over certain matters. "Original" means that the case can begin and end in the state Supreme Court absent a basis for further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. "Nonexclusive" means that these matters do not absolutely have to begin in the Supreme Court, but also could originate in a lower court. The bulk of matters falling within this category often are called the "extraordinary writs" and include habeas corpus, mandamus, quo warranto, and the writ of prohibition.
Finally, the Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over some other matters. "Exclusive" means that the Florida Supreme Court is the only court or governmental body that can resolve the issue. This category includes regulation of The Florida Bar, regulation of admissions to the Bar, creating and amending the Florida Rules of Court, and determining whether the Governor is incapacitated and thus unable to fulfill the duties of office. It also includes two forms of jurisdiction to issue advisory opinions. The Court can provide an advisory opinion upon a request by the Governor to address uncertainties about legal issues involving the executive branch's powers. It also can issue advisory opinions to the Florida Attorney General about citizens' initiatives to amend the state Constitution. However, for this last type of advisory opinion, the Court can only determine whether the citizens' initiative meets two legal requirements: (1) its ballot summary fairly advises the voters of its effect; and (2) it only contains a single subject. The effect of the advisory opinions commonly remove non-conforming initiatives from the ballot.
The Supreme Court also has the duty to review legislative redistricting after each decennial Census. After the Florida Legislature enacts a joint resolution reapportioning the State House and Senate, the plan is presented to the Supreme Court on a petition filed by the Florida Attorney General. The Supreme Court's review of an apportionment plan created by the Legislature is limited to two considerations: (1) whether the plan satisfies the equal protection standard of one-person, one-vote and (2) whether the plan satisfies the state constitutional requirement that the districts contain contiguous, overlapping, or identical territory. If the Legislature fails to initially pass a reapportionment plan or fails to enact a remedial plan after its primary plan is rejected by the Supreme Court, then the Court has the duty to apportion the State.
The Supreme Court also has the authority to impose discipline on state judges for ethical breaches, which can range from a public televised reprimand to removal from office. State judges also can be impeached by the Florida House of Representatives with trial in the Florida State Senate. In practice this legislative procedure is so cumbersome that no state judge has been removed by the Senate following impeachment in the House.
The court is composed of the Chief Justice and six Justices, who all serve six-year staggered terms. The Justices elect the Chief Justice from amongst themselves. Justices must be an elector (a qualified, registered voter) of the state and must have been a member in good standing of The Florida Bar for at least ten years. They must retire on their 70th birthday unless it falls within the second half of their six-year terms. In that event, they can remain in office until the end of the full term.
At least five Justices must be present for the Court to carry out its official functions, and at least four Justices must agree on decisions issued by the Court. The Chief Justice can assign judges of the lower courts to serve as temporary Justices (called "Associate Justices" under Florida Rules of Court) if the need arises. Under the Court's Internal Operations Procedures Manual, the appointment of Associate Justices rotates among the chief judges of the district courts of appeal in their numerical order, from one to five, and then starts over again. The obvious intent behind this procedure is to eliminate any concern that temporary Associate Justices are appointed because of their personal views on legal issues.
Appointment and retention
The Court must have at least one justice who resided in each of Florida's five lower appellate districts on the date of their appointment. A relatively complex appointment process (known as a modified "Missouri Plan") is set forth in the Florida Constitution, which requires the creation of a Judicial Nominating Commission composed of persons appointed to staggered four year terms, representing various interests. The Commission must submit to the Governor of Florida between three and six names for each vacancy on the court, from which the Governor selects the new Justice. The Governor's selection is final and requires no further approval by any governmental body.
After appointment, the new Justice must face statewide voters in the next general election that is more than one year after the date of initial appointment. In this "merit retention" election, voters decide only if the new Justice will remain in office. If not retained in office, the Governor appoints a replacement through the same Judicial Nominating Commission process. After this first merit retention election, Justices face the voters in the same type of merit retention election every six years thereafter until they leave or reach retirement age.
In 2006, the Court struck down a law passed by the Florida Legislature that had created the United States' first state-wide education voucher program. In Engle v. Liggett Group, it also ordered decertification of a class action lawsuit against big tobacco companies that effectively reversed the largest punitive damage jury award, $145 billion, in U.S. history.
In 2004, the court struck down another piece of legislation from the Florida legislature designed to reverse a lower court decision to permit a guardian's removal of Terri Schiavo's gastric feeding tube.
In the U.S. presidential election controversy of 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the Florida Supreme Court after it had ordered a statewide recount. Notably, arguments before the Florida Supreme Court in the 2000 presidential election cases were the first appellate court proceedings in history broadcast live in their entirety on major television networks in the United States and throughout the world.
- Wikipedia article on the Florida Supreme Court
- Supreme Court of Florida official website
- Supreme Court of Florida webcasts of oral arguments
- Internal Operations Manual of the Supreme Court
- Florida State Courts System official website