Ten years ago, the 2012 general election cycle was a comparatively more innocent era. It was a time when Barack Obama was cruising to an easy election win over milquetoast Mitt Romney, Florida was considered a solidly “purple” swing state, and the Palm Beach Post was urging voters not to play partisan politics with Florida’s supreme court justices.
Ahh…the good old days.
It was a time when the Post had worked itself into a lather over the fact that the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), led by Lenny Curry (now Jacksonville’s mayor), was actively urging voters to fire a trio of liberal Florida Supreme Court justices after those justices intervened in the GOP-controlled legislature’s redistricting process. And, yes, those same liberal Florida justices had also let a convicted murderer off the hook in a ruling so outrageous and borderline incompetent that even Ruth Bader Ginsberg couldn’t abide. She wrote the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion to reinstate the killer’s conviction. Armed with those examples of incompetence, the Florida GOP and their allies worked to gin up a little public outrage and attempt to oust those offending judges.
It won’t come as a shock to anyone that even back in those days, the Post didn’t see eye to eye with Republicans on anything, let alone the RPOF’s perfectly legitimate, even if partisan, justifications for wanting to fire the three liberal justices. And so the Post published a trio of opinion pieces in the fall of 2012 urging voters to ignore the RPOF’s examples of incompetence and keep all three justices, while at the same time accusing the RPOF of “injecting politics where it does not belong.”
In those same opinion pieces, one by trial lawyer advocate Bruce Ramsey, one by card-carrying liberal columnist Frank Cerabino, and one by a Post Editorial Board member, Randy Schultz, all argued the same point: in their opinion, judicial retention votes are not supposed to be partisan checks on a judge’s ideology, the merit retention process exists simply to remove bad actors within the judiciary. On behalf of the entire Post ed board, Schultz wrote, “The system is designed to remove justices who are incompetent or unethical, not justices who are unpopular with one political party or another.”
That was their opinion back then. But what a difference a decade makes.
The Post injects politics into the court
This month, the Palm Beach Post’s editorial board is urging voters to fire a trio of conservative judges. But gone are their supposedly principled arguments about maintaining an independent judiciary. The Post says they should be fired solely because they are conservative. Nowhere does the Post’s editorial board offer a shred of evidence of incompetence or unethical behavior. In fact, the Post didn’t even bother to provide a single example of any ruling they felt the justices got wrong. The Palm Beach Post’s editorial board simply can’t stomach the judicial philosophies of the conservative-minded judges on the court:
“The Florida Supreme Court used to be the model among state high courts. Today, it’s a court gone rogue. Conservative judicial appointments have changed the court from an independent third branch of government into an activist, right-wing rubber stamp.”
Of course most enlightened political observers already know that the Palm Beach Post has long been a partisan political media outlet, caring nothing about the integrity or independence of the court, despite their high-minded claims back in 2012. All that matters – indeed all that has ever mattered to the Post – is the underlying judicial philosophy of the justices. If they are liberals, they deserve to be forgiven their incompetence, and if they are conservative, they deserve to be fired, period. In short, the Post is a disgusting reflection of modern liberal culture, where only “correct” political views can be tolerated, and all others must be driven from the public sphere.
But the Palm Beach Post isn’t the only media outlet guilty of that same, dishonestly partisan flip-floppery.
Three other major Florida newspapers are pulling the same stunt
As with the Post, the Orlando Sentinel and its sister publication, the Sun-Sentinel, wrote a similar joint editorial that was also cross-published prominently by the Tampa Bay Times. Here’s their joint lead:
Gov. Ron DeSantis has reshaped the Florida Supreme Court into a political instrument of right-wing ideology that cannot be trusted to uphold the rule of law. The public’s only remaining influence over this rogue court is to deny new terms to its offending members when the opportunity arises — as it will on Election Day, Nov. 8.
That’s the same purely political reasoning proffered by the Palm Beach Post. And it’s completely the opposite of what all these newspapers claimed to believe back in 2012. Like the Post, the Tampa Bay Times, Sun Sentinel, and Orlando Sentinel all rushed to the defense of those three liberal justices. Together, they urged Florida voters to ignore a ruling so flawed that the entire United States Supreme Court, from Antonin Scalia to Ruth Bader Ginsberg herself, were compelled to join forces in order to correct the collosal liberal justice screwup and keep a murderer behind bars. The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board even published a column headlined “Keep Justices on the Job.” Note how these liberal newspapers take actual evidence of incompetence and transform it into an accusation that the RPOF is “injecting politics:”
But now, in 2022, with the shoe on the other foot, even the reasonable-sounding principle of “keeping politics out of the judiciary” is suddenly thrown out the window by these same newspaper editorial boards. They don’t even bother to offer evidence of incompetence or ethical breaches. We live in a time when our legacy newspapers openly contradict themselves without concern for their own credibility. In the past they at least used to be careful about pretending to be impartial, unbiased or unfair. Not so anymore. Even though they refuse to admit it, they surely aren’t hiding the fact they are blatantly and openly acting as partisan communications platforms working to advance the interests of liberal political ideology.
In 2012, with liberal justices in the hot seat, they told us to ignore evidence of incompetence because, in their view, it was just Republicans “injecting politics” into the judiciary.
In 2022, with conservative justices in the hot seat, they don’t bother with evidence of any kind. Instead, they openly advocate for firing judges for purely political reasons.
What about the Miami Herald?
It’s time for a little credit where it is due: To our surprise, we could find nothing on the subject of Supreme Court justice merit retention this year from the Miami Herald. Maybe it’s because they can’t afford to pay any of their unionized reporters to crank out a story. Whatever the reason, at least as far back as 2012, the paper has consistently argued for “keeping politics out of the judiciary.” The phrase sounds nice on the surface. But whether or not they believe that mantra, or whether or not keeping politics out of the courts is even possible, at least it’s a mantra they’ve consistently stated. Last December, they even published an opinion piece from Peggy Quince herself, one of the liberal justices Florida’s media collectively defended in 2012:
“Florida’s judicial-merit selection and retention system was put into place to remove politics from the equation of selecting appellate court judges and Supreme Court justices.” – Former Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince, writing in the Miami Herald
Of course that doesn’t mean the Herald isn’t a complete liberal dumpster fire of a newspaper, but to their credit, it appears they haven’t flip-flopped on the question of Supreme Court merit retention. Unlike the other four major newspapers in the state, we could find no evidence that the Herald contradicted themselves on this issue.
Never let it be said that we aren’t fair when we need to be.