Florida Judicial Terms Limits: An Idea So Bad, Both Business and the Plaintiffs' Bar Agree

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April 24, 2017

Let’s face it: it’s a rare occasion when the trial bar and business groups agree on anything. So rare, in fact, that the Sun Sentinel’s Editorial Board compared it to the Chicago Cubs’ historic World Series drought.

But just as a losing baseball team is bound to win someday, every once in a while an issue comes along that unites both businesses and plaintiffs’ lawyers.  In this case it’s the Florida legislature’s effort to impose term limits on the state’s supreme court and appellate court judges. Already, the Florida state House has passed a bill requiring a ballot initiative to change the state’s constitution, imposing 12-year term limits on Florida Supreme Court justices and judges on the five lower appellate courts.

This is a terrible idea that will downgrade and weaken Florida’s judiciary.

No other state has such draconian limitations on judicial terms, and for good reason.  Term limits would eat away at the independence and quality of Florida’s judicial system. Experienced jurists would be removed from the bench after having mastered the learning curve.  Qualified individuals who might seek a judgeship would shy away, knowing that their tenure would be prematurely cut off after which they would have to rebuild a law practice in middle age.  Worse, the integrity of the courts could be called into question, since judges who would soon be leaving the bench might agonize over making politically unpopular decisions, or ruling against a future employer. Simply put, term limits would push experience, independence, and institutional knowledge out of Florida’s courtrooms.

So why are some in the power structure of the Florida legislature seeking to make this unprecedented change? According to the Sun-Sentinel, the bill sponsor said judges are “legislating from the bench.”  In the words of the Sun-Sentinel, that translates into: “We don’t like their rulings.”  The Sun-Sentinel argues that this is the latest “attack on the separation of powers,” and we cannot help but agree.

This bad bill now rests in the state senate, from which it will hopefully not emerge.  After all, with the state’s business and legal communities standing together against term limits, it’s a clear sign this legislation isn’t a home run.