Complaints about judicial overreach are typical when politicians disagree with a court's decision. But having a president who publicly attacks judges over rulings is a worrisome development.
It's not just President Donald Trump taking aim at the judicial branch of government. Florida is among several states where lawmakers are seeking to curtail the independence of the courts. Bills being considered by the Florida Legislature would impose term limits on state Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges, and allow lawmakers to override judges' rulings.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, has been critical of Florida Supreme Court decisions striking down the state's death penalty sentencing process, the redrawing of legislative districts and worker's compensation measures. He told a business lobbying group in December that the seven justices were an "enemy" of free markets.
"The enemy is not the House of Representatives, the enemy is not the state Senate, the enemy is not a governor," Corcoran said. "The enemy are basically seven individuals who meet in private in black robes."
This kind of dangerous rhetoric echoes comments coming from President Trump such as a tweet on the "so-called judge" who ruled against his travel ban on seven majority Muslim countries. In all these cases, the courts were simply doing their job in reviewing executive and legislative decisions to ensure they are constitutional.
The attempt by Florida lawmakers to impose judicial term limits comes four decades after corruption scandals with the state Supreme Court led to the creation of the current system. Justices and appeals-court judges are appointed, but must go before voters in merit-retention elections every six years and face a mandatory retirement age of 70.
The legislation would impose 12-year term limits, if approved by state lawmakers and voters on the 2018 ballot. Supporters say no justice or appeals-court judge has lost a merit-retention vote and term limits are needed to increase accountability.
But term limits would dissuade quality young lawyers from leaving private practices to be judges. They would further politicize courts that are already having their impartiality threatened by the influence of special interests.
A report issued last month by the Florida Access to Justice Project found that changes made to the judicial nominating process in 2001 undermine a system that is supposed to be based on merit. The report found spending on state Supreme Court races has doubled in the past 10 years, and calls for the time between merit elections to be extended to address the issue.
Instead, in addition to term limits, state lawmakers are considering legislation to let them review rulings that void their decisions.
The executive, legislative and judicial branches need to remain independent to provide checks and balances on each other, preventing abuses of power. Attacks on judges by government leaders and others undermine the system and public confidence in the courts.
REPRINTED FROM THE NORTHWEST FLORIDA DAILY NEWS