Putting Education Reform To The Test

How the Amendment 5 Fight Over Florida Judges Is Related To Education

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Amendment 5 would allow the state Senate to confirm Supreme Court judges and allow the Legislature to set the rules of state courts.

Editor’s note: This post has been corrected from its original version. Please see the bottom of the story.

A group arguing Florida’s Supreme Court judges are too political is citing the 2006 decision striking down vouchers as an example of the court deciding cases based on their own beliefs rather than the state constitution or law.

Americans For Prosperity Florida says the state Supreme Court has become “politicized” and is running advertising to educate voters about the issue.

The campaign comes as voters will decide on Amendment 5, which according to a Collins Center analysis, would require the state Senate to confirm Supreme Court judges and allow the Legislature to change the rules governing the court system.

Opponents argue Amendment 5 is an attempt to threaten an independent judiciary from making decisions that might be unpopular with the Republican political majority.

Americans for Prosperity Florida has taken no position on Amendment 5.

Americans for Prosperity argues the 2006 decision in Bush v. Holmes reinterpreted the state constitution and was judicial activism.

From the group’s YouBeTheJudgeFL website:

Showing their bias against this specific program, the Court held that their ruling only applied to the Opportunity Scholarship Program. They ruled it did not apply to any other program where tax payer dollars are used for private schools, like the favored Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG) that gives a scholarship to students to attend Private Colleges, or the McKay Scholarship program which provides vouchers for disabled students, allowing them to attend specialty private schools that can better serve them. Notably, neither of these programs has the affect on teachers union membership that the Opportunity Scholarship Program did.

We’ve written about the Bush v. Holmes decision before, highlighting the dissent.

In it, Justice Kenneth Bell argues the court is reading too much into the constitution and interpreting the language as more restrictive than what is written. He argues for a more literal reading.

“Nothing…clearly prohibits the Legislature from allowing the well-delineated use of public funds for private school education,” Bell wrote, arguing public schools were not the only way the Legislature could provide education, “particularly in circumstances where the Legislature finds such uses necessary.”

The majority decision focused on the constitutional requirement of a “uniform…system of free public schools.” Private schools are subject to different rules than public schools, they argued, such as the ability to hire teachers who do not have a college bachelor’s degree.

From the Collins Center: “A ‘yes’ vote means you want the Senate to have confirmation power over Supreme Court appointees, and some authority over changes to the rules that govern the state’s courts. You also want to grant the House access to Judicial Qualifications Commission’s investigative files on judges.

“A ‘no’ vote means you do not want these proposed changes made to the state’s judiciary.

Hat tip to the redefinED blog for noting this Washington Post story which touches on the issue.

You can check out all of our coverage of the amendments on this fall’s ballot here.

Correction: A spokesman for Americans For Prosperity Florida says the group did not take a position on Amendment 5. The group’s president says the You Be The Judge campaign was meant to highlight court decisions which have “politicized the bench.”


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