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Campaign Note: Proposed Constitutional Amendment #3: Judicial Vacancies

Last Updated Sept. 17, 2014: The Florida Legislature is sponsoring an amendment to ensure that the winner of the 2014 gubernatorial election would make appointments to replace three sitting Florida Supreme Court justices when their terms expire in January 2019. 

"Proponents say this amendment is needed to avoid a 'constitutional crisis,'" reads the Florida TaxWatch 2014 Voter Guide, "because current law is unclear as to whether the outgoing or incoming governor has the responsibility to appoint three new Supreme Court Justices on January 8, 2019 when three justices are slated to retire on the same day a new Governor is sworn in."

"We have a constitution that is unclear and we could easily end up in a constitutional crisis if we do nothing," said Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, as the House passed the resolution to include the amendment on the November ballot. "Right now we don’t know who the next governor is going to be. This is not political."

But Democrats opposed the amendment, saying the constitution should instead be clarified to allow the incoming governor and winner of the 2018 election to pick the justices.

Under the constitution, justices are required to retire when they turn 70, but can serve out the rest of a six-year term if they hit that birthday more than halfway through the term. 

Justices Barbara ParienteFred Lewis and Peggy Quince will all be forced to retire by January 2019.

Crist appointed the other members of the court during his first term as governor. His re-election -- with the passage of the amendment -- would mean that all seven members of the Florida Supreme Court would be his appointees. He would be able to keep the court’s current 5-2 liberal majority on most contentious decisions. 

Should Gov. Rick Scott win re-election this year, he would be able to flip the ideological majority on the bench from liberal to conservative.

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