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Former Supreme Court justice challenges constitutional amendments

Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead is challenging six proposed constitutional amendments on grounds they violate voters’ First Amendment rights.

Anstead, who served on the Supreme Court 1994-2009, on Tuesday filed a petition with the court for a writ of ‘quo warranto,’ a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action — in this case, against Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Florida’s “chief election officer.”

The court did not immediately accept jurisdiction but later Tuesday “requested” Detzner to respond to the petition “no later than 5 p.m. (next) Monday.”

Anstead is challenging six of the eight amendments placed on the ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), because each one “bundles independent and unrelated proposals in a single ballot question.”

That “requires a voter to vote ‘yes’ for a proposal that the voter opposes in order to vote ‘yes’ for an independent and unrelated proposal the voter supports, and to vote ‘no’ for a proposal the voter supports in order to vote ‘no’ for an independent and unrelated proposal the voter opposes,” the petition says.

“This is logrolling and a form of issue gerrymandering that violates the First Amendment right of the voter to vote for or against specific independent and unrelated proposals to amend the constitution without paying the price of supporting a measure the voter opposes or opposing a measure the voter supports,” it says.

“This court has long acknowledged that a ballot question that requires a voter to vote ‘no’ to support a measure the voter approves cannot remain on the ballot.”

Anstead, an appointee of the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles and chief justice in 2002-04, filed the petition with former High Springs City Commissioner Robert J. Barnas.

They’re represented by Joseph Little, a retired professor of the University of Florida’s law school and a constitutional scholar.

The amendments at issue, by ballot title and summary, are:

Amendment 6 — Rights of Crime Victims (also known as “Marsy’s Law”); Judges.

“Creates constitutional rights for victims of crime; requires courts to facilitate victims’ rights; authorizes victims to enforce their rights throughout criminal and juvenile justice processes. Requires judges and hearing officers to independently interpret statutes and rules rather than deferring to government agency’s interpretation. Raises mandatory retirement age of state justices and judges from seventy to seventy-five years; deletes authorization to complete judicial term if one-half of term has been served by retirement age.”

Amendment 7 — First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities.

“Grants mandatory payment of death benefits and waiver of certain educational expenses to qualifying survivors of certain first responders and military members who die performing official duties. Requires supermajority votes by university trustees and state university system board of governors to raise or impose all legislatively authorized fees if law requires approval by those bodies. Establishes existing state college system as constitutional entity; provides governance structure.”

Amendment 8 — School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools.

“Creates a term limit of eight consecutive years for school board members and requires the legislature to provide for the promotion of civic literacy in public schools. Currently, district school boards have a constitutional duty to operate, control, and supervise all public schools. The amendment maintains a school board’s duties to public schools it establishes, but permits the state to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board.”

Amendment 9 — Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces.

“Prohibits drilling for the exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas beneath all state-owned waters between the mean high water line and the state’s outermost territorial boundaries. Adds use of vapor-generating electronic devices to current prohibition of tobacco smoking in enclosed indoor workplaces with exceptions; permits more restrictive local vapor ordinances.”

Amendment 10 — State and Local Government Structure and Operation.

“Requires legislature to retain department of veterans’ affairs. Ensures election of sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors, and clerks of court in all counties; removes county charters’ ability to abolish, change term, transfer duties, or eliminate election of these offices. Changes annual legislative session commencement date in even-numbered years from March to January; removes legislature’s authorization to fix another date. Creates office of domestic security and counterterrorism within department of law enforcement.”

Amendment 11 — Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provision; Criminal Statutes.

“Removes discriminatory language related to real property rights. Removes obsolete language repealed by voters. Deletes provision that amendment of a criminal statute will not affect prosecution or penalties for a crime committed before the amendment; retains current provision allowing prosecution of a crime committed before the repeal of a criminal statute.”

Another CRC amendment banning betting on dog races already has been invalidated by a circuit judge and is under appeal at the Supreme Court.

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Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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