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Cannon Puts Heat on Supremes

By: Kathleen Haughney, The News Service of Florida Email
By: Kathleen Haughney, The News Service of Florida Email

Tallahassee, FL - Newly elected House Speaker Dean Cannon blasted the Florida Supreme Court in formal remarks before the House Tuesday accusing the court of overstepping its constitutional duty as an impartial arbiter of the law.

The source of Cannon’s anger with the Florida high court comes from three rulings this summer, in which it threw out three politiccally contentious proposed constitutional amendments that originated in the Legislature.

“Over the past year three times we saw the work of a three-fifths super majority of this legislative branch, the elected representatives of over 18 million Floridians, demolished by five unelected justices on the Supreme Court,” said Cannon in opening remarks at the Legislature’s organizational session, during which Cannon was unanimously chosen to be speaker. “This was done notwithstanding the fact that there is no express authority in the Florida constitution for doing so.”

Cannon served as the lawyer for the Legislature in one of the cases, defending its proposed amendment to change the redistricting process, which directly conflicted with a citizen initiative on the same subject. A second proposal thrown off the ballot by the court would have offered property tax exemptions to certain new homebuyers. A third rejected ballot measure sought to prevent Floridians from being compelled to participate in any health care system and to protect residents who want to opt out of a new federal requirement that they eventually buy health insurance or face penalties.

Chief Justice Charles Canady, who swore Cannon in as the new speaker prior to the speech, declined to comment on Cannon’s remarks afterward.

Cannon, in an interview with reporters after his speech, said his remarks were not necessarily foreshadowing any particular efforts to take on the judiciary. But, he said, lawmakers have begun a “dialogue” with the court system over how each branch should function best.

For years the Republican-led Legislature has feuded with courts, which lawmakers have often called “activist” for rulings that legislators thought overstepped judicial bounds to tread on lawmakers’ prerogatives. Several high profile legislative efforts have been ruled unconstitutional, such as a signature school voucher program sought by former Gov. Jeb Bush, while other fights have stemmed from citizen initiatives as in the three cases cited by Cannon. In addition to seeing their efforts thrown off the ballot, lawmakers have also lost battles with the courts over citizen initiatives that have forced the Legislature to pass certain laws. For example, when voters put term limits in the constitution in the early 1990s, lawmakers tried to prevent them from taking effect, only to have the court side with the voters.

House Democratic leader Ron Saunders, who argued against the three proposed amendments cited by Cannon when they were considered by the House last spring, said he believed his Republican counterpart was merely letting “his feelings be known” and not intimating any sort of legislative change in the court’s authority because the Legislature must adhere to the constitutional standard of separation of powers.

“When the courts decide in your favor they like it, when they decide not in your favor, they don’t like it, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles,” Saunders said.

“To me it’s just very important that the branches don’t cross into each other’s territories because that’s when problems arise,” he said.

In addition to Canady, Justice Ricky Polston was also present for the new speaker’s remarks to the House chamber. But both men were the dissenting votes in all three rulings – siding with lawmakers.


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