Florida: Proposal for retroactive term limits for appellate courts filed; voters have rejected prior efforts in other states; only New Mexico Probate Court judges subject to similar restrictions

A version of a plan advocated for by the (soon to be) Speaker of the Florida House to put term limits on Florida’s Supreme Court has been prefiled for the 2016 session.

Under HJR 197 as filed

No person may appear on the ballot for retention to the office of justice of the supreme court or judge of a district court of appeal if, by the end of the current term of office, the person has ever served or, but for resignation, would have served, in that office for two consecutive full terms.

The proposed amendment would specifically “apply to justices and judges in office on the effective date of the amendment.” That would appear to clear from the Supreme Court bench justices Barbara J. Pariente (served since December 10, 1997), R. Fred Lewis (December 7, 1998), and Peggy A. Quince (December 8, 1998).

Update 9/18/2015 @ 12:45pm Interestingly, when Florida put term limits on legislators and executive branch officials in 1992 (Amendment 5, now Art. VI, Sec. 4(b)) it did not apply retroactively (“but no service in a term of office which commenced prior to the effective date of this amendment will be counted against the limit…”)

No other state has judicial term limits for appellate judges. As I noted when term limits were proposed in Oklahoma several years ago only New Mexico Probate Court judges are presently subject to term limits and their being subject to them was possibly a drafting error. Probate Court judges were explicitly exempted from term limits in New Mexico from statehood (1912) until 1992, but that exemption was deleted in drafting a new term limits for county officials provision in the state constitution.

While there have been bills introduced in state legislatures recently, none have advanced onto the ballot. Moreover, the one effort that did get before voters was in Colorado in 2006 (signature-gathered initiative) and was rejected 57-43.

Nevada voters overwhelming rejected Question 9B, a 1996 effort to limit that state’s judges to two terms (or 1 full term + part of another OR two partial terms). It was rejected 59-41%.

In 1995 Mississippi voters rejected Initiative 4, an effort to term limit a litany of public officials. Included were judges, who would have been restricted to 3 successive terms. It was rejected 54-46%.