TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Though one justice wrote that voters should “beware,” the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to three proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot --- including a measure that seeks to ban offshore oil drilling and vaping in workplaces.
Justices overturned a ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers that would have blocked the constitutional amendments in a case focused on whether the proposals improperly “bundled” unrelated issues into single ballot measures.
The Supreme Court said, in part, the Florida Constitution and a state statute do not bar such bundling when amendments are placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, which proposed the three disputed measures. The challenge contended that bundling would violate First Amendment rights because voters could have conflicting opinions about issues in the same ballot measure.
“It is evident that a vote of either yes or no corresponding to the ballot summary of a proposed amendment is a vote to approve or reject the entire constitutional amendment --- including all of its subjects,” said the opinion, which was fully shared by Chief Justice Charles Canady and justices Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga and Alan Lawson. “The fact that each proposed amendment contains multiple independent measures covering different subjects does not prevent compliance with the statute.”
The ruling finalizes that voters in the Nov. 6 election will decide whether to approve 12 proposed constitutional amendments, which were placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, the Legislature and through petition drives. The Supreme Court last month rejected one amendment, which dealt with education issues.
The three amendments involved in the bundling case included the measure, Amendment 9, that seeks to ban offshore oil drilling and vaping or use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces. Another measure, Amendment 7, deals with governance of the state-college system and death benefits for survivors of first responders and military members. The third measure, Amendment 11, would remove constitutional language that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property and would revise language to make clear the repeal of criminal statutes does not affect the prosecution of crimes committed before the repeal.
Former Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead and another plaintiff, Robert J. Barnas, challenged the three amendments by filing what is known as a petition for a “writ of quo warranto” against Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state’s chief elections officer who assigns measures to the ballot. Such petitions involve questions about whether officials have “improperly exercised a power or right,” according to the Supreme Court ruling.
But justices unanimously ruled that a petition for a writ of quo warranto was not a proper legal basis to challenge the proposed constitutional amendments.
“Appellees (Anstead and Barnas) do not demonstrate or even allege that Secretary Detzner exceeded his authority to assign ballot position to the revisions,” the opinion said. “The petition therefore fails to assert a proper basis for quo warranto relief.”
But questions about whether the proposed constitutional amendments improperly bundled unrelated issues caused a split on the court. While Canady, Polston, Labarga and Lawson rejected the arguments about improper bundling, Justice Barbara Pariente wrote an opinion that took issue with the practice.
“Voters beware! When amending our Florida Constitution, voters should not be forced to vote ‘yes’ on a proposal they disfavor in order to also vote ‘yes’ on a proposal they support because of how the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) has unilaterally decided to bundle multiple, independent and unrelated proposals,” Pariente wrote in an opinion joined by justices R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. “While I concur in (the overall) result because I agree with my colleagues that petitioners fail to present a proper claim for issuance of a writ of quo warranto, I write separately to emphasize the obvious dangers of logrolling --- combining popular and unpopular proposals into a single proposal --- even by the CRC.”
The 37-member Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years, has unusual authority to place proposed amendments on the ballot. Largely appointed by Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders, the commission this spring approved eight proposals, though one of them was the education measure blocked last month by the Supreme Court in a separate case.