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Supreme Court passes on ‘bundling’ challenge to constitutional amendments

The state’s highest court has punted a challenge that six proposed constitutional amendments were wrongfully “bundled.”

Without explanation, the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously kicked the case to the 2nd Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee, with a proviso that the trial judge assigned the case “should not interpret the transfer of this case as an indication that it must or should reach the merits of the petition.”

Retired Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead filed a challenge to the amendments earlier this month. He said six amendments placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) were “logrolled.” That is, they could force people to vote for an amendment because they’re in favor of one policy in it, but not others.

He called it “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.”

In her own filing, Attorney General Pam Bondi countered that there’s no such thing as improper bundling of issues when it comes to CRC amendments: “The single-subject requirement applies to amendments proposed by citizen’s initiative, and only to such amendments.”

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In other words, “the single-subject limitation exists because the citizen initiative process does not afford the same opportunity for public hearing and debate that accompanies the other constitutional proposal and drafting processes (i.e., constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature, by a constitutional revision commission, or by a constitutional convention).”

Anstead, a Gov. Lawton Chiles appointee who served on the Court 1994-2009, seeks a writ of ‘quo warranto.‘ That’s 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 measures at issue include amendments that already have been ordered off the ballot by circuit judges: Amendment 8, a contentious education-related amendment; and Amendment 6, which would create a crime victims’ bill of rights and raise judicial retirement ages.

Anstead also is going after Amendment 7, which would extend survivor benefits to first responders and military; Amendment 9, which bans both offshore oil drilling and indoor ‘vaping,’ Amendment 10, which would overhaul state and local governments by requiring certain offices now appointed to be elected; and Amendment 11, which deals with property rights and criminal laws.

Yet another amendment aimed at ending live greyhound racing in Florida, Amendment 13, also has been ordered off the ballot in a separate challenge; that case is under appeal at the Florida Supreme Court. Oral arguments are set for Wednesday morning.

Anstead filed his petition with Robert Barnas, a former High Springs City Commissioner and former state Elections Commissioner. They’re represented by Joseph Little, a constitutional scholar and retired professor of the University of Florida’s law school.

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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