Florida Constitutional Crisis – Partisan Politics Fuel the Fire

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House Speaker of the Florida Legislature, Richard Corcoran has rapidly gained the reputation of being a champion for the fight against corporate welfare. Most recently, he is known for leading the charge among representatives against Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, Inc., two public-private partnerships funded with taxpayer money. He saw to it that new legislation cut their funding considerably and did the same to the Lottery Department. In so doing, he has put himself at odds with Governor Rick Scott multiple times. Now, however, he’s targeting the Florida Supreme Court.

Corcoran now refers to the Supreme Court as the “enemy”—“the seven individuals who meet in private in black robes.” He and many other Republicans have taken issue with the fact that the Supreme Court forces them to wait on information for what seems like an inordinate amount of time. The court does not pigeon-hole itself with hard and fast deadlines but, rather, abides by their Latin motto that, when translated, says, “soon enough if done right.” They claim to focus, therefore, on being right more than being quick.

Corcoran is among one of the most vocal supporters of House Bill 301, which was introduced by Rep. Frank White (R-Pensacola). He introduced this to the House saying, “Members, House Bill 301 requires the Supreme Court to send a report, a modest report once a year for five years and then it sunsets, asking about its performance according to its own time standard.” This time standard was set by the Court itself as 180 days within which they can be expected to render a ruling. These 180 days or six months begin on the date of oral argument, and White points out that the Court has stated in the past that it is their goal to render their rulings within this timeframe; however, he focuses on the fact that they typically miss the mark in this regard.

“They’re not hitting that [mark],” White said. “71 percent of the time in the last year they did not.”

The purpose of the bill, therefore, is to require the Supreme Court to report on their progress at annual intervals, which Republicans do not feel is too much to ask. They aren’t, after all, mandating that the 180 days become the end-all-be-all of Supreme Court rulings. They simply deem it necessary to hold the Court accountable for their time

Some Democrats believe that this is all apart of Speaker Corcoran’s broader agenda and that it may even be a threat to the Florida state constitution. Rep. Sean Shaw (D-Tampa), for example, said, “Now, we may be upset. We may not like the fact that some of the decisions take time. That one we’re just going to have to take because of Article Five of the Florida Constitution. They are a co-equal branch.” He spoke as one who has not been entirely opposed to Speaker Corcoran’s war on corporate welfare but is aware of Corcoran’s conflicts with Governor Scott. The branches of government being equal is arguably the only thorn in Corcoran’s side.

Rep. Cord Byrd (R-Jacksonville) argued that the bill is perfectly fine since they are merely requesting information. “We ask the governor to provide reports to us—the governor—and the executive is a co-equal branch,” Byrd contended. “We’re merely asking the court to tell us why they are taking so long to render opinions.”

Rep. Joe Geller (D-Aventura) rebuts, “But [asking’s] not what we’re doing. This is phrased in a mandatory fashion. It says, ‘shall,’ which is us telling the court what to do without a word as to what would happen if they fail to do it.” Geller finally asks the most pivotal question of the House on the issue:

“Are we trying to provoke some kind of a Florida constitutional crisis here?”