HJR 7111 cleared the Florida Senate on Monday, but not without major revision. Below is a recap of what is now in and out.
Jurisdiction & Structure Changes: Gone is any reference to expanding the state’s Supreme Court from 7 to 10 and dividing them into two panels of five (civil and criminal) each with its own chief justice.
Salary & Budget: Gone, too is any reference to a constitutional guarantee of a “total appropriation of all fund sources to the judicial branch  equal [to] no less than 2.25 percent of the total general revenue funds appropriated in the general appropriation bill referred to in Section 19(b) of Article III.”
Selection: HJR 7111 as Senate-amended would keep the state’s judicial nomination commissions but require for Supreme Court justices only nominees selected by the governor be subject to senate confirmation. There is a time limit: if the Senate fails to confirm within 90 days the individual is deemed confirmed.
Rule Making: The legislature would be able to repeal any rule adopted by the Supreme Court by a majority vote (currently, requires two-thirds of legislature). The court could readopt the rule, so long as it was in conformance with the expressed policy expressed in the repeal bill or resolution. If the rule was repealed a second time, the Supreme Court could not readopt it without legislative permission.
Other: Removes the power of the Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal to name its Clerks and Marshals. Removes the Governor’s power to ask the judicial qualifications commission for all information investigations/complaints against judges. The commission would still be obligated to turn such information over, on request, to the House of Representatives. All information so turned over would remain confidential during any investigation and until such information is used in the pursuit of any impeachment.
Even with the changes, the Senate adopted HJR 7111 on a straight party line vote with all Republicans in favor. Yet even this support was a courtesy to House Speaker Dean Cannon. The Miami Herald quotes GOP senator Paula Dockery as saying “I would prefer to have no bill, but this bill represents a good compromise” while naming several other Republican Senators who had “stood firm against the court split.”
With the legislature set to adjourn Friday, several questions remain:
- Will the modified bill be acceptable to House Speaker Cannon? Early indications are yes. (Cannon told the Miami Herald “It’s a win. It’s absolutely a win” after the Senate vote.)
- What about SB 2170 and HB 7101, the bills to remove the state bar’s role in judicial nominating commissions? SB 2170 remains pending on the Senate Special Order Calendar, while HB 7101 is in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- Which ballot will HJR 7111 appear on? I noted last week there is the possibility there will be an effort to get it on the January 2012 Republican presidential primary ballot, and that such a move was successfully achieved in the recent past. However, so far it does not appear a bill for a January 2012 vote has been formally introduced. It could come up in any fall special session called, so long as it is adopted and in the hands of the custodian of state records 90 days prior to the election (January 31, 2012 – 90 days = November 2, 2011).