A critic of Florida’s proposed victims’ right amendment suggested Wednesday that the Florida Supreme Court should block the Constitution Revision Commission from combining multiple proposals into single revisions to place before the voters.
Such “bundling” gives voters a choice to swallow provisions they don’t like to enact those that they do, litigator Harvey Sepler said during oral arguments before the justices.
“That is contrary to what we think of as a free and meaningful vote,” Sepler said.
The high court has long recognized the CRC’s authority to bundle proposed amendments, although a “single-subject rule” applies to revisions proposed by the Legislature and through citizens’ initiatives.
“I have difficulty, in a conceptual way, understanding what that is and why that should be,” Sepler said.
CRC authority to bundle is central to the state’s arguments in favor of Amendment 6, the so-called “Marsy’s Law” amendment, and the separate Amendment 8, which would take away local school boards’ authority to supervise new charter schools and give it to the state.
Tallahassee litigator Barry Richard, arguing for Marsy’s Law for Florida, which is defending Amendment 6 along with lawyers from the Office of the Attorney General, said the court is well within its authority to allow bundling by the CRC.
“It’s a political issue that’s left to the states,” Richard said. “This state has made the decision, and this court has recognized it for many years, and that’s the end of the story.”
The court presided over nearly two hours of argument on the two amendments in the 4th District Court of Appeal’s courthouse in West Palm Beach. Challengers in both cases argue that the title and summary language that would appear on the ballots would confuse voters to the stakes before them.
Regarding Amendment 8, its critics have argued the language doesn’t make clear that the provision would strip school boards of authority over charter schools “established” by the state or some other party.
The measure also would impose eight-year term limits on school board members and would require the promotion of “civic literacy” in public schools. The charter school language — representing a significant change to public policy — comprises the summary’s final clause.
“As a voter, I would find that really hiding the ball,” Justice Barbara Pariente told deputy solicitor general Daniel Bell.
“Not that you can’t bundle unrelated things,” she said. “But the way this is placed is further reason it’s misleading.”
Chief Justice Charles Canady said the language seemed clear to him, and that the challengers’ real beef is with the underlying policy proposal.
“That’s not a reason to keep the people of Florida from having an opportunity to vote on this,” Canaday said.
“The question is whether they’re going to be somehow fooled about what they’re voting on,” he said. “I’m still struggling to understand why they aren’t going to get the main point here — that the school boards are going to lose some authority.”
Arguments over Amendment 8 centered on the degree to which the newly enumerated victims’ rights would infringe on the rights of criminal defendants. Tallahassee litigator Mark Herron split the challengers’ time with Sepler.
Nothing in the ballot language suggests any diminution of defense rights, Richard argued.
“It does do what it says — it creates victims’ rights — and it does not repeal or abrogate any existing rights,” he said.
Pariente did not openly challenge the CRC’s authority to bundle, but still objected that marrying victims’ rights with changes to the judiciary was a bit of a stretch.
“There is something about this — it’s multiple, unconnected subjects,” she said. “It’s almost like it’s worse than logrolling, because the three are just completely unrelated.”
Richard replied: “The very fact that they are so unrelated makes it easier for the voter to distinguish among them. It’s not confusing. And we have to assume that the voter has enough intelligence to see that there are three subjects here.”