Understanding Florida’s Constitutional Amendment 5

With Amendment 5 voters in Florida are being asked to approve constitutional changes to Florida’s legal system.  Amendment 5 would change two main areas of law: (1) How the court’s procedural rules are adopted and (2) how Supreme Court Justices are appointed.  In both cases, Amendment 5 would give more power to the Florida Legislature.

You can find the full text of the proposed Amendment 5 here.

Procedural Changes

Currently the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, and other similar rules governing criminal cases, family law cases, and all other matters before the Florida courts, are written and adopted by the Florida Supreme Court.

You can view an example of one recent amendment by the Florida Supreme Court amending the rules to allow for service by email here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2012/sc10-2101.pdf

Amendment 5 would shift power over the adoption of the court’s procedural rules from the Florida Supreme Court to the Florida Legislature by allowing the legislature to veto rules amendments with a majority vote by the legislature.

Appointment of Supreme Court Justices

Currently Justices serving on the Florida Supreme Court are appointed by the Governor from a list of nominees provided by a judicial nominating commission (the “JNC”).  The JNC is a partially independent group appointed for the purpose of evaluating judges, but in practice the governor exercises some influence over the JNC.  Ultimately, the decision of whom to appoint as a Supreme Court Justice is made by the Governor.

Amendment 5 would require Senate confirmation of a justice of the Supreme Court before the appointee can take office.  Under Amendment 5 the JNC would still meet and submit names to the Governor and the Governor would still select from the list of people provided by the JNC.  However, instead of the Governor’s selection being final, the Florida Senate would have to approve the Governor’s selection.

Conclusion

Amendment 5, if approved, will give Florida’s legislative branch more control over Florida’s courts.  The changes are likely to make Florida’s court system more political.  The Florida Bar is opposed to Amendment 5.

The Collins Center maintains an excellent and more detailed explanation of the changes as well.