The Florida Republican Party and Tea Party mis-justice
Mara HatfieldSeptember 26, 2012 9:59 AM
I am an independent. I have thoughts on positions that won’t neatly fit into either party’s platforms, and so I seriously study and consider the point of view of every candidate every time I vote.
Since I’m not a “party line” person, election time is usually pretty frustrating for me. But recent news has me seriously considering whether I should ever vote for a Republican again.
And if you are not a card carrying member of the GOP but an independent, like I am, this latest blunder should have you seriously wondering if there’s any room in the Republican party for sanity, let alone middle of the road thinkers.
The headline should have read “GOP opposes justice.” Instead, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post reported that the “GOP Opposing Three Florida Justice’s Retention Bids.” The three justices are Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Justice Peggy Quince. Sadly, the entire GOP has officially signed on to the campaign to oust these judges—and the excuse that the GOP is using is simply incorrect and without merit.
Why does the GOP support removing these Justices from the bench now, when years of dedicated service has made them even better, more experienced judges then they were when they began their service?
Supposedly, the GOP thinks that all three of these Justice need to go because in 2003, each decided that a man deserved another trial after his attorney admitted his guilt to a jury. The attorney did not have the accused's permission to make an admission. The case was Nixon v. State, a particular opinion issued in 2003; it was eventually reviewed and reversed by the US Supreme Court. It was about defendants having a right to a fair trial in a death penalty case. It was not just about Nixon; it was a constitutional issue to be determined for all the cases that would proceed into the future.
At the end, the decision looked like this:
“ANSTEAD, C.J., and PARIENTE, QUINCE, and CANTERO, JJ., concur.ANSTEAD, C.J., concurs specially with an opinion, in which PARIENTE and QUINCE, JJ., concur. LEWIS, J., concurs in result only with an opinion. WELLS, J., dissents with an opinion, in which SHAW, Senior Justice, concurs.”
Don’t worry if that blurb confuses you. It was not a simple decision--the question was novel: can an attorney admit guilt for a silent accused who may have confessed upon arrest? What is crystal clear from the opinion that the Court handed down was that all of the justices who decided the Nixon case had their own doubts about some of the issues involved.
Recognizing the complexity of the case, though, does not work for the sound bite the GOP needed over the weekend:
“The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court voted, unanimously, to throw out their legal opinion, raises serious questions as to their competence to understand the law and serve on the bench, and demonstrates that all three justices are too extreme not just for Florida, but for America, too,"
Does it? Does being overturned by the US Supreme Court in a death penalty case raise serious questions about a State Court Justice’s competency? If it did, there have been a great many incompetent justices in states all across the country.
It’s a red herring. Here's why:
The US Supreme Court issues decisions that provide guidance to state courts in death penalty cases. For example, in 2003, (at the same time of the at-issue decision Florida decision Nixon v. State case), the US Supreme Court had just overruled one of its own prior cases: In Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), the Supreme Court by a vote of 5-4, decided that any statue imposing the death penalty for a crime committed when a person was under the age of 18 was unconstitutional. In so doing, they overruled their decision of Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989), which stated that a person could be sentenced to death if they committed the act when they were 16 or older.
See, it's not easy stuff and this is only one of the many death penalty decisions that state court justices must examine.
Justices can’t have sympathy for sympathy sake. They must apply the law and they must protect the constitution. It’s certainly not the easy job that whoever is steering the Florida GOP want you to believe it is.
The GOP’s job is definitely easier. They should inform their members of why they really want to kick out veteran judges. Instead, they point to a ten year old opinion. And you know what? They got the case totally wrong; perhaps they have another purpose in mind.
What exactly happened in Nixon v. State? Mr. Nixon killed and tortured a woman he abducted; he confessed to the police that he burned her to death. An horrific crime. I had trouble even reading the case. But the court had a legal issue to examine based upon the constitutional right to a fair trial; perhaps not so much for Mr. Nixon, but for all the other defendants, guilty or innocent, who may come after Mr. Nixon.
Let’s try something novel – let’s try to be fair here. Nixon’s attorney was not clear about what to do because his client continued in his depravity even after being arrested-an arrest wherein he confessed to the crime. He sometimes would not come to court, get dressed, or even speak to his lawyer. So, the attorney never had permission to make a plea for the accused much less make an admission. In an attempt to convince the jury not to inflict the punishment of death, the attorney decided to admit the crime for the accused without his permission.
Right about now, you’re probably wondering what’s the difference between a confession to a police officer and an admission in Court. If there is a difference, what difference is left if the defendant stops talking after he’s confessed? Well, that’s exactly what Justices Pariente, Lewis and Quince were wondering with the rest of the Court. In fact, so was the whole Court system. Again, it is a constitutional issue about more than just Mr. Nixon’s case.
This is what Chief Justice Anstead said about why he thought the law required a new trial. It does not sound “extreme,” “liberal,” “incompetent” or “activist” to me:
“I concur in the majority opinion because it simply reaffirms a fundamental principle long ago established by the United States Supreme Court and consistently adhered to by courts, that counsel cannot enter a plea of guilty to a criminal indictment without the express consent of the defendant.”
The entire Florida Supreme Court, not just Justices Pariente, Quince and Lewis applied the law as it fit these facts and as that law had been previously outlined by the US Supreme Court. Perhaps the GOP would have been able to divine that the US Supreme Court did not mean that express consent was required under these circumstances. If so, the GOP actually does have the power of divination they seem to pretend to have.
In fact, the decision of the court was not entirely unanimous in considering all the issues. Justice Lewis agreed that the rest of the court was following the law, as he would, but he actually said:
“I concur in result only because I am compelled to do so solely and exclusively by the doctrine of law of the case…As unfortunate and convoluted as these legal and factual circumstances may be, I am bound by the prior decision of this Court and will honor its precedent.”
So, you see, the GOP not only grossly over simplified what the Nixon case was about...for their own purposes, but they got it so wrong when it comes to Justice Lewis that one has to wonder if anyone actually even read the Nixon case.
So the GOP has the outrageous temerity to disagree with a 2003 decision in which (7) justices of the Florida Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court struggled with how to apply the law.
The statements by the Republican Party of Florida would be the butt of a joke if they were not using these untruths to attack three good and competent justices in the pursuit of power. But hey, what do you expect when the spokesperson never bothered to check and see if in fact every Justice on her hit list actually stated the holding that her party found so ‘incompetent.”