TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court on Monday named the first three of 36 people who will serve with Attorney General Pam Bondi on the Constitution Revision Commission, an initial step toward potentially overhauling the state Constitution.
Chief Justice Jorge Labarga announced he was appointing Hank Coxe, a former president of The Florida Bar; former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat who is an attorney; and Roberto Martinez, a former U.S. attorney who also served on the State Board of Education.
"I have looked not only for people skilled in the law, but also for those who have a wide range of knowledge about all of the functions of government and its impact upon the everyday lives of everyday people," Labarga said in announcing his choices.
The Constitution Revision Commission can propose amendments directly to Florida voters for up-or-down votes, bypassing the Legislature and the ballot initiative process. Any amendment has to receive 60 percent of the vote to be adopted.
Labarga's appointments make up a relatively small share of the commission's lineup, which will also include 15 members selected by Gov. Rick Scott and nine each chosen by Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Bondi is automatically a member of the panel.
But the chief justice's picks, made after consulting with the court's six other members, are also the only members who will not either be an elected Republican in the case of Bondi or be appointed by a Republican. And while Labarga is nonpartisan and was named to the court by a Republican, he often sides with the court's more-liberal majority.
Labarga said the most significant request he might make of his appointees "would be the preservation of an independent judiciary to render decisions," and he flatly denied that he considered their political orientations.
"Absolutely not. I just want people who are familiar with our state, familiar with our system to go in there and do the best job they can," he said.
Joyner is a veteran of the civil-rights movement in Florida and was a fiery liberal during her time in the Legislature. She served a stint as Senate Democratic leader and was a fierce critic of Scott before leaving office due to term limits in 2016.
Coxe is a criminal-defense attorney in Jacksonville and has also served on the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigates judges accused of wrongdoing.
Martinez, along with serving as U.S. attorney in South Florida in the early 1990s, was a member of the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission nearly a decade ago. That body can also recommend changes to the Florida Constitution, though on a narrower range of issues than the Constitution Revision Commission.
More than 70 people asked for one of Labarga's appointments, according to the court.
Scott, Negron and Corcoran have to make the other appointments by the beginning of the legislative session, but they have not announced when they will make their picks. The session starts March 7.
But Corcoran has suggested that he will appoint only conservatives to the commission. In December, he told the Associated Industries of Florida that he would ask his appointees to loosen legal restrictions on private school vouchers; overhaul redistricting after a contentious legal battle over the state's political maps; and impose judicial term limits.
"As far as the priorities, I think a lot of it is fixing bad decisions by the Supreme Court," he said.