Mark Roman | March 29, 2017 | news
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran knows how to get attention. He has famously picked a fight with Governor Scott, a fellow Republican, about what he perceives as corporate welfare. He has criticized Florida’s universities and promised to cut their budgets. Many political observers believe he is getting ready to run for governor in the next election.
Corcoran has also proposed limiting the time Florida judges can spend in office. Though this proposal has gotten less attention, it is deadly serious for the court system and the principle of separation of powers. Under Corcoran’s proposal, appeals courts judges in Florida would be limited to two six-year terms, or no more than 12 years in office. After that, they would have to move on to other work or retire.
Corcoran says judges need to be put on a shorter leash because their decisions are “an edict from on high” and they just write law out of “whole cloth.” Corcoran paints a picture of judges as arrogant and out of touch, and suggests they just make legal decisions to suit their personal preferences.
It’s hard to overstate how bad Corcoran’s proposal would be for our judicial system. Here are just a few reasons:
●Every judge would have to ship out after 12 years. Even judges who are universally respected would have to go do something else. The bench would lose a great number of people with intellect, integrity, and a devotion to public service. Court decisions would likely become less predictable because of turnover in the judicial ranks.
●We already have a system that works. Judges who commit misconduct are subject to investigation and discipline by the Judicial Qualifications Commission and Florida Supreme Court. Even if a judge is not kicked off the bench this way, they still have to face voters in retention elections. Some troubled judges have stepped down rather than face voters.
●Term limits will make the job much less attractive. It makes sense that we’d want the best and the brightest lawyers to become our judges. However, lawyers who become judges have to give up a lot. Few talented lawyers will be interested in giving up their practice and taking a pay cut if they know they’ll have to start over 12 years down the road. Most will choose to remain in the practices they’ve built, and the talent pool will shrink.
●Capping judges at 12 years doesn’t guarantee that they won’t behave badly. Any judge can act poorly at any time. But that’s not all. Under Corcoran’s proposal, a judge in his or her second six-year term will actually have a reduced incentive to work hard. They know they’ll have to step down when their 12 years is up regardless of how much they contribute. Term limits may actually invite judicial “senioritis” instead of better behavior.
Corcoran’s proposal is a bad one. We urge voters to let their local representatives know.
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