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Jac VerSteeg: House bullies attack Florida Supreme Court

Steve Crisafulli, speaker of the Florida House, heaped disdain on the Florida Supreme Court’s 5-2 decision to suspend the state’s 24-hour waiting period for an abortion.

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Crisafulli said in a statement. “In my opinion, this has been one of the most activist and overreaching state Supreme Courts in recent memory. I believe our government works best when all sides respect the balance of power. It appears that several of our Justices seem to believe it is their job to invalidate any action of the Legislature, regardless of the law and constitution.”

Of course that’s pure bunk. It’s part of the effort by a GOP that’s increasingly out of touch on social issues to attack the authority of any court that Republicans haven’t stacked. Their strategy is to undermine courts until they can rig them to overturn any progressive legislation that might be passed in the future.

At that point, if it ever arrives, they’ll suddenly rediscover respect for the courts. It’s not that they don’t want judicial activism. It’s that they want reactionary judicial activism.

The Legislature is sore because Florida courts stopped the lawmakers from ignoring the state constitution after voters amended the foundational document to curb gerrymandering.

That wasn’t activism. It was the court doing its job. It was the court protecting the will of Florida’s voters.

Crisafulli’s claim the Justices want “to invalidate any action of the Legislature,” is a ludicrous overstatement. And, in fact, the ruling he’s railing against didn’t nullify anything. It suspended the abortion waiting period while the high court decides whether to rule on its constitutionality.

Abortion is a complex and emotional issue. Respect for court rulings – whether you agree with them or not – is one reason this nation hasn’t completely torn itself apart because of this issue and others. When Crisafulli attacks the court, he is the one who is not showing proper respect for the balance of power.

There’s no reason to think Republicans in the Legislature might start reading the warning signs and moderate their positions on social issues. Speaker-Designate Richard Corcoran issued a statement that was, if anything, more defensive and ludicrous than the one Crisafulli released.

“Apparently, abortion activists, and their liberal allies on the Supreme Court,” he said, “are no longer content just for abortion to be legal; their goal seems to be to ensure that the maximum number of abortions are performed each year in Florida.  How else would you explain opposition to a law that simply protects women from being pressured or bullied into making a life-altering decision?”

Really? Five justices on the state Supreme Court want to maximize the number of abortions in the state?

There is no one who wants to do that. However, there are quite a few people who want to stop lawmakers from interfering in medical decisions that should be left to a woman and her doctor.

Corcoran’s contention that the waiting-period law “simply protects women from being pressured or bullied into making a life-altering decision” is absurd.

The law isn’t “simply” some kind of anti-bullying measure. The law itself is a bullying measure imposed by bullies like Crisafulli and Corcoran to harass women who have concluded that they want or need to have an abortion.

Their bullying law might be constitutional. Many other states have imposed waiting periods – though Florida’s Constitution contains special privacy provisions that might change the outcome here.

But it is the Supreme Court and not the Legislature that will make that decision. America’s tradition calls for respecting the decision even if you disagree with it. Of course, you also are free to disagree in strong terms. But when House speakers and speakers-to-be disagree in disrespectful terms, they are straying into territory that is dangerous to democracy.

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Jac Wilder VerSteeg is a columnist for The South Florida Sun Sentinel, former deputy editorial page editor for The Palm Beach Post and former editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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