TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Voters will make two decisions in November that could shape the state Supreme Court for years to come: who will be the next governor and whether he should pick three Supreme Court justices in 2019 even if he leaves office the same day they're sworn in.
The Florida House voted 73-45 to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot to give outgoing governors power to appoint justices that would be sworn in the day the governor leaves office.
Democrats opposed the measure, arguing that the incoming governor should appoint justices - not the person leaving office.
The debate is important because three justices are expected to step down on inauguration day 2019 because of a mandatory retirement age for justices. That means if Republican Gov. Rick Scott is re-elected, he wpi;d be able to place three justices on the bench the day he departs because of term limits.
Likewise, if a Democrat is elected in November, he or she would be able to appoint the three justices even if he or she loses a 2018 re-election bid or simply decides not to seek a second term.
Republicans said the matter wasn't based on politics because no one knows who will be elected in November.
"We have the choice essentially of heads or tails. The state constitution has to be clarified one way or the other," said Republican Rep. James Grant of Tampa. "If we were pushing a button that put into law this decision, I would be as offended as you are. But we're simply pushing a button to let our citizens and the voters of our state have a say."
But Rep. Jared Moskowitz said voters would be given only one choice, and they won't have the option to say the incoming governor should make the appointments.
"It's not good policy to be having an outgoing person deciding the balance of the court," said Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, adding that no one believes that the outgoing governor should appoint agency heads that serve under the incoming governor. "The state Supreme Court justices are of a higher importance than who the secretary of the Department of Transportation is, so their logic just doesn't add up."
The ballot question would need 60 percent support in order to be placed in the constitution.
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