Proposing a revision of Article V of the State Constitution relating to the judiciary. The State Constitution authorizes the Supreme Court to adopt rules for the practice and procedure in all courts. The constitution further provides that a rule of court may be repealed by a general law enacted by a two-thirds vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature.
This proposed constitutional revision eliminates the requirement that a general law repealing a court rule pass by a two-thirds vote of each house, thereby providing that the Legislature may repeal a rule of court by a general law approved by a majority vote of each house of the Legislature that expresses the policy behind the repeal. The court could readopt the rule in conformity with the public policy expressed by the Legislature, but if the Legislature determines that a rule has been readopted and repeals the readopted rule, this proposed revision prohibits the court from further readopting the repealed rule without the Legislature's prior approval.
Under current law, rules of the judicial nominating commissions and the Judicial Qualifications Commission may be repealed by general law enacted by a majority vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature. Under this proposed revision, a vote to repeal those rules is changed to repeal by general law enacted by a majority vote of the legislators present. Under current law, the Governor appoints a justice of the Supreme Court from a list of nominees provided by a judicial nominating commission, and appointments by the Governor are not subject to confirmation.
This revision requires Senate confirmation of a justice of the Supreme Court before the appointee can take office. If the Senate votes not to confirm the appointment, the judicial nominating commission must reconvene and may not renominate any person whose prior appointment to fill the same vacancy was not confirmed by the Senate. For the purpose of confirmation, the Senate may meet at any time. If the Senate fails to vote on the appointment of a justice within 90 days, the justice will be deemed confirmed and will take office. The Judicial Qualifications Commission is an independent commission created by the State Constitution to investigate and prosecute before the Florida Supreme Court alleged misconduct by a justice or judge. Currently under the constitution, commission proceedings are confidential until formal charges are filed by the investigative panel of the commission. Once formal charges are filed, the formal charges and all further proceedings of the commission are public. Currently, the constitution authorizes the House of Representatives to impeach a justice or judge. Further, the Speaker of the House of Representatives may request, and the Judicial Qualifications Commission must make available, all information in the commission's possession for use in deciding whether to impeach a justice or judge. This proposed revision requires the commission to make all of its files available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives but provides that such files would remain confidential during any investigation by the House of Representatives and until such information is used in the pursuit of an impeachment of a justice or judge.
The proposed bill proposes that three justices be added to the seven-member court. Additionally, two divisions - civil and criminal - would be created within the high court with five justices each. The governor would be in charge of appointing the chief justices for each division and two would alternate as chief justice of the entire court. Appointees would have to be confirmed by the Senate. The proposed legislation also grants the House access to investigative files of the Judicial Qualifications Commission and sets aside at least 2.25 percent of the state's general revenue to fund the judicial branch.
Several judicial reform measures were proposed by the legislature in early 2011 for the 2012 statewide ballot. The proposals were developed following the removal of three legislatively-referred measures in 2010 by state courts. Measures removed from the ballot included: Florida Redistricting, Amendment 7, Florida Property Tax Limit, Amendment 3 and Florida Health Care Freedom, Amendment 9. Judicial reform proposals filed legislators include amendments to judicial qualifications, appointee certification, judicial retention, court rules, release of court records and splitting the Florida Supreme Court into two courts.
The proposed measure, according to reports, is supported by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Civil Justice Chairman Eric Eisnagle said dividing the Florida Supreme Court into two branches would speed the review of both criminal cases and civil litigation. He said, "This bill is intended to bring more efficiency to the high court's ability to address all types of cases."
According to the Collins Center for Public Policy, opponents have called the measure a dangerous attempt by the legislature to gain undue influence over judicial branch, thus upsetting the balance of power.