The state Republican Party has put a target on the backs of three state Supreme Court Justices.
The party announced late Friday that its board voted unanimously this week to oppose the retention of Supreme Court Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince, who were all appointed by Democratic former Gov. Lawton Chiles and who have ruled against several major priorities of Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration.
If the justices are not retained, Scott would appoint replacements.
“While the collective evidence of judicial activism amassed by these three individuals is extensive, there is one egregious example that all Florida voters should bear in mind when they go to the polls on election day,” said spokeswoman Kristen McDonald in a statement. “These three justices voted to set aside the death penalty for a man convicted of tying a woman to a tree with jumper cables and setting her on fire.”
The case in question is that of Joe Elton Nixon, who was charged with the 1984 murder of Jeanne Bickner in Leon County. Among the various appeals, including challenges to Nixon’s sanity, was a state Supreme Court ruling that his public defender had erred by not getting Nixon’s approval to essentially concede his guilt, a strategy the attorney had hoped would avert the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision.
The move was an unusual one for the state party and has put attention on the retention of Supreme Court justices. A grassroots group called Restore Justice 2012 is also opposing the justices.
No justice has been removed from the court in the 40 years since the state adopted a system where justices are appointed by the governor and then face “merit retention” votes every six years. There had previously been competitive elections, but that system was thought to be too political.