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We are diverting from our usual construction-related topics to inform you of this serious threat to judicial independence in Florida.

On Friday, April 15th, the Florida House of Representatives passed HJR7111, a bill proposing amendments to the Florida constitution revamping the Supreme Court, giving the Legislature the authority to establish the rules of court and altering the judicial nomination process.  The bill is a transparent attempt by the Florida House of Representatives to rob the judiciary of its independence.

There is much wrong with this legislation.  Perhaps the worst element is the proposal to add three justices to the Supreme Court, split the court into two panels: one panel hearing only criminal cases and the other hearing only civil cases, and then assign the four most experienced justices to the criminal panel.  By no coincidence, the four senior judges led the majority on the panel which last year invalidated three proposed constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature.  With judicial appointment being altered in the bill to provide the Governor with unbridled discretion to choose whomever he wishes to fill the new positions and to name the Chief Justice,  the adoption of the amendments will guarantee one party's control of all three branches of government.  This is a dangerous incursion into the separation of powers, a bedrock of our democracy.

For any of you who may be of the mind that this is "politics as usual" in the arena of court structuring and judicial appointments, understand that what this bill proposes is unprecedented not only in Florida, but nationally.  Every local and state bar association, and there are many from conservative districts, has come out against this legislation.  So have a number of former Florida Supreme Court justices, conservative and liberal.  Go to the Citizens for Fair and Impartial Courts website at www.fairandimpartial.com for their comments and several editorials on the issue.

Fortunately, one of our system's checks and balances is that in order to become law, the bill or something close to it must also clear the State Senate.  A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate, although it is unclear as to whether it is gaining traction.  If you are concerned about this threat to judicial independence, please contact your local State Senator and urge them to stop this dangerous legislation in its tracks.

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