TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday weighed whether to invalidate two ballot amendments passed by the powerful Constitution Revision Commission, with critics charging the measures were designed to mislead voters.
- Critics say ballot Amendment 6, 8 are misleading
- Fla. Supreme Court to discuss invalidating measures
- Critics say measures were designed to be 'misleading'
The CRC, which is formed once every 20 years with the sole mission of putting referenda on the ballot, grouped multiple proposals -- some controversial, others not -- within single amendments.
The measures the high court considered Wednesday, Amendment 6 and Amendment 8, were hotly debated by the commission.
Some commissioners, in fact, predicted the legal challenges that have now materialized.
"There's no single subject violation, but there is something about this that is multiple, unconnected, subjects that's really putting the voter in some position," Justice Barbara Pariente commented during Wednesday's oral arguments held in West Palm Beach. "It's almost like it's worse than logrolling, because the three are just completely unrelated."
Amendment 6 asks voters to raise the mandatory retirement age for state judges, a reform aimed at reducing the growing caseloads burdening Florida's court system.
Also within the amendment, however, is a contentious "victims' rights" measure known as Marsy's Law. Opponents argue it would impede the constitutional rights of the accused and say it should have been passed as a stand-alone proposal.
Amendment 8, meanwhile, proposes requiring civic literacy to be taught in Florida's public schools and would restrict county school board members to serving two four-year terms. A third grouped measure -- what critics have called a "poison pill" -- would strip school boards of their authority to approve or reject charter school applications.
Justice Jorge Labarga suggested the ballot summary for the amendment failed to inform voters of the effect of the charter school provision.
"If the objective here is to inform the voter as to what is going to happen, why all the wordsmithing?" Labarga asked. "Just come out and say it: 'The legislature will be permitted to establish schools in the state of Florida as a statute. From now on there be charter schools'. Period."
Amendment 8 is opposed by the Florida Education Association, the state teacher union the referendum's supporters say is hell-bent on preventing its passage.
"They do it on education at every level. If they don't win on policy, they attack the process, and that's what we've seen happen here," CRC Commissioner Erika Donalds said during an April debate on the measure.
Because Wednesday's arguments took place a day after the deadline to set the fall ballot in time for a Sept. 22 distribution to vote-by-mail voters, any amendments invalidated by the Supreme Court would likely still appear on the ballot, even if votes for them don't count.
And at least two of the justices strongly hinted they're inclined to vote to invalidate.
"This is a huge deal, as you know, every 20 years," Pariente said. "They've never done anything like this, and so, it's just unfortunate that this has happened, because if it was decoupled, we might not be precisely where we are right now."