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Florida Bill Allows Politicians to Reverse Court Rulings

A Florida lawmaker wants to allow the state legislature to reverse court rulings that declare a state statute unconstitutional and enshrine the measure in the state’s constitution.

(CN) - A Florida lawmaker wants to allow the state Legislature to reverse court rulings that declare a state statute unconstitutional and enshrine the measure in the state’s constitution.

The bill, HJR 121, is part of a broader effort by Florida Republicans to reign in the state’s judiciary.

HJR 121 specifically targets any judicial ruling that declares a legislative act void and requires a two-thirds vote from the state legislature. If passed, and signed by Gov. Rick Scott, the measure would appear on the ballot for voters to decide if it should become an amendment to the Florida Constitution.

The bill is the brainchild of Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Republican from Venice, Fla. Gonzalez dismisses claims that the bill violates the separation of powers in government.

“The separation of powers is currently being broached by an activist court,” Gonzalez told Courthouse News. “They are only supposed to interpret the law, not legislate from the bench.”

Rep. Gonzalez added the measure would only allow the Florida Legislature to void court rulings within a five-year window.

“I don’t think we should go back indefinitely,” he said. “For example, on civil rights, these opinions should remain sacrosanct.”

The proposed amendment reads, in part: “Any law, resolution, or other legislative act declared void by the supreme court, district court of appeal, circuit court, or county court of this state may be deemed active and operational, notwithstanding the court’s ruling, if agreed to by the Legislature pursuant to a joint resolution adopted by a two-thirds vote of each house within five years after the date that the ruling becomes final.”

Rep. Gonzalez and his Republican colleagues are smarting at the chastising they received in late 2015 from the Florida Supreme Court, which ordered congressional and state senate districts redrawn after finding evidence of gerrymandering.

Florida Republicans have also sharply criticized other decisions by the justices, including striking down new rules limiting workers’ compensation and abortion.

In another bill aimed at the judiciary, Rep. Jennifer Sullivan proposes to add 12-year term limits on judges.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has publicly supported the push for judicial term limits.

In December, Corcoran told attendees of the Associated Industries of Florida’s annual conference that the “enemy” of the business community is the “seven individuals who meet in private and wear black robes.”

The term limits bill has already passed the House Judiciary Committee.

“I don’t see this as a partisan issue,” said Rep. Gonzalez, who recently wrote a book on the concept of judicial override “I see this as a structural flaw, a loophole, of our system.”

Rep. Gonzalez’s bill has received a major pushback from the legal community. The Florida Bar and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida both oppose the measure.

“This bill rearranges the constitutional separation of powers between the three equal branches of government into a hierarchical system with the legislature on top,” said Kara Gross, legislative counsel for ACLU Florida, in an e-mail. “Our democratic system is based, and has always been based, on the notion that the three branches of government serve as a system of checks and balances on each other.  That is what makes us a democracy.”

“This bill is nothing more than an attempt to usurp the power of the Courts and to make the legislature the final arbiter of the validity of the laws it enacts,” she continued. “This is the fox guarding the henhouse.”

In addition to the state amendment, Gonzalez also filed HM 125, which urges the U.S. Congress to adopt a similar measure for the federal courts.

The Florida Legislature convenes on March 7.

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