Thursday, March 17, 2005


Another Bush attacks the courts

While his brother Georgie leads the assault on the federal court system, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida is doing what he can to destroy the local state court system. The St. Pete Times ran an excellent editorial today that summarizes the mischief (emphasis added)—
Every governor has stubbed his toe on the Florida Supreme Court from time to time, but only Jeb Bush has sought revenge. That unseemly side of him is on display in his support for a constitutional amendment to strip the court of its power to control the rules of civil and criminal procedure. It is more than a turf fight. Everyone's civil rights are at stake.

The offensive measure, HJR 1007, is payback to the court for overturning a law that was intended to speed up executions, for waiving the Legislature's arbitrary deadline on DNA testing to support claims of innocence, and for asserting that dependent children should have access to lawyers before commitment to residential treatment programs. It is accompanied by another bill, HB 1005, that would speed up executions. The House Criminal Justice Committee approved both with too little debate this week. Rep. Everett Rice, R-Indian Shores, cast a decisive vote in favor of HJR 1007.

As the amendment moves through the legislative process, Rice and others who are disposed to support it ought to reread what Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist on the importance of judicial independence:

In a monarchy it is an excellent barrier to the despotism of the prince; in a republic it is a no less excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body. And it is the best expedient which can be devised in any government, to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws.

Florida leads the nation in the number of people - 24! - who have been set free from death row on account of proof of innocence or grievous flaws in their convictions. DNA exonerated another after he died of cancer. One came within 16 hours of execution. This is no time, and Florida is certainly no place, to be short-circuiting due process.

The Constitution empowers the Legislature to overturn any of the court's rules by a two-thirds vote. Among other things, HJR 1007 would let the Legislature repeal or amend the rules by majority vote. It would create an unnecessary, time-consuming judicial conference to initiate certain rules.

It would also prohibit the court from providing for postconviction appeals except on the Legislature's terms. That borders on tyranny, for it infringes on the ancient right of habeas corpus.

I just hope the St. Pete Times isn't becoming "shrill."

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