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Florida GOP’s Agenda, Once Emboldened, Facing Broad-Based Backlash in Courts

| December 23, 2011

Battling ideology's ballast. (© FlaglerLive)

When Republicans returned to Tallahassee in 2011 with the Legislature firmly under control and a solidly conservative governor taking over for the moderate Charlie Crist, they were emboldened to push an aggressive agenda.

Sweeping changes to the state’s elections laws were approved, welfare recipients were required to undergo drug testing and state workers were stuck paying 3 percent of their income toward their own pension plan for the first time in decades.

Often over Democratic objections, the majority privatized prisons across the southern third of the state, restricted the ability of doctors to ask patients if they had guns at home and sent to voters a constitutional amendment allowing the state to provide funding to faith-based organizations.

All of those measures have now faced a court challenge of some sort, part of a legal pushback by more progressive groups against the new Republican proposals. Several have been halted by judges and others are in limbo as the cases are considered. And lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott are beginning to chafe at the volume and results of the legal showdowns.

“It’s disappointing when the judiciary thinks they’re the Legislature and the governor, when we pass a bill that’s clearly constitutional, and they declare it unconstitutional,” Scott said in a recent interview with the News Service of Florida.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, sees the challenges as nothing more than an effort to undermine the Legislature’s agenda by its ideological opponents.

“What have liberals historically done?” Haridopolos asked rhetorically in another recent interview. “When they can’t win elections, they go to the courts.”

Among some of the more notable cases, and where they stand now:

–Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford sounded openly skeptical of the pension changes during oral arguments in October, momentarily walking down from the bench to discuss the merits of the overhaul with a lawyer for the state and saying of one state employee: “It’s like you’re punishing him for continuing to work”;

–Fulford barred the state from moving forward with the privatization plan in a September ruling, then ruled again that the state should “cease and desist” from taking further steps toward accepting bids for a prison-privatization plan while the case was on appeal;

–The welfare drug testing standards were struck down by U.S. District Court Judge Mary Scriven in October in a ruling that has been appealed;

–The “docs vs. glocks” bill was blocked by U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in September while the merits of the challenge to the bill are being debated. Physicians say barring them from asking about firearms breaches their First Amendment right to free speech;

–The ballot summary language for the constitutional amendment on removing restrictions from tax dollars going to religious organizations was rejected earlier this month, though the summary has since been revised by Attorney General Pam Bondi.

At the same time, the elections law is part of a complicated legal battle that includes a state lawsuit to get “preclearance” for the changes under the Voting Rights Act, among others.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning has challenged the section of federal law that requires preclearance for five Florida counties because of a history of racial discrimination. Meanwhile, voting-rights groups have filed a legal challenge to sections of the law dealing with voter registration and former Republican Sen. Nancy Argenziano, now an Independent, has challenged another portion that would keep her from running for Congress as a Democrat.

Haridopolos took a veiled shot at Fulford, who as a circuit judge in Tallahassee has drawn some of the cases and ruled against the Legislature, when talking about the suits.

“They have a judge in Tallahassee who’s been very helpful, and I disagree with her opinion, and I think that the precedents and the law [are] on our side,” he said.

At the same time, when discussing a lawsuit that Palm Beach County filed against a state law overriding local firearms restrictions, Haridopolos acknowledged that the GOP-led state itself is party to an effort to strike down a federal law that many Republicans find noxious: The health-care plan approved by Congress and signed by President Obama last year.

“Sometimes,” Haridopolos said, “governments disagree.”

–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

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11 Responses for “Florida GOP’s Agenda, Once Emboldened, Facing Broad-Based Backlash in Courts”

  1. Bill Zimmerman via Facebook says:

    Since he’s so outspoken in this story, search ‘Haridopolos’ at to see more about his overall history.

  2. Outsider says:

    The man is right; a conservative electorate votes in a conservative majority which in turn enacts a conservative agenda. The minority, via the liberal court system, impedes the implementation of the voted-for agenda. If the coutrts were a political party, they would probably be labeled “The party of ‘no.'”

    • NortonSmitty says:

      This is exactly how the Founders intended the Constitution to work, having the courts uphold the rights of all citizens from the tyranny of the majority.

  3. Angela Smith via Facebook says:

    Had Rick Scott realized beforehand that “governor” is NOT the same thing as “king”, he could have saved himself (and the people of Florida) a great deal of embarrassment.

  4. Prescient33 says:

    The courts in Florida are the last refuge for a “progressive” (liberal) agenda rejected by a duly elected majority of Florida’s voters. It’s a travesty imposed on our Republic by an out of control judiciary, and should be recognized as such. One stands in awe at the hubris of a so-called “liberal,” as it seems the will of the people should be respected ONLY when it agrees with their idea of what is right.
    Liberals have brought these meretricious law suits; they are solely responsible for the costs imposed on the taxpayers of Florida.

  5. Out of curiosity says:

    Activist judges are the new overpaid teachers.

  6. Outsider says:

    Sorry Norton, but I hardly consider asking employees to contribute 3% of their salaries, and allowing faith based groups to administer social programs the government can’t seem to handle as “tyranny.” And the unanswered questions with regard to doctors inquiring parents of pediatric patients if they have guns in the home is what would they do with that information? Are they going to hand them a pamphlet on gun safety, or, more worrisome, report that information to the government? The latter could actually be construed as illegal search and seizure. Interestingly enough, we’ve never gotten an answer to that question.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      So you can’t see how it might be beneficial for a shrink who has a patient tell him he is feeling suicidal to be asked if he has a gun in his house? Really?

    • PalmCoast1l says:

      Then problem is State employees were not given the choice to opt out of the 3% payment to the pension. For many state employees this 3% is a hardship after 5 years with no raises and getting paid less that average private sector wages.

  7. NortonSmitty says:

    “One stands in awe at the hubris of a so-called “liberal,” as it seems the will of the people should be respected ONLY when it agrees with their idea of what is right.”

    I guess you call yourself Prescient because you don’t know how to look backwards (you have that in common with Obama) You must be too young remember when the Real Ammerricuns like you all had their panties in a bunch about the liberal decisions of the Warren Supreme Court. And too brainwashed to remember all of the bitching from the right wing toadies about every judicial decision that Fox news didn’t like ever since. But if a rare ruling manages to get past the entire judicial system that has been packed for thirty years with right wing cronies, you all rise up on your perches and Squawk “Awwwk, Judicial Activism, Judicial Activism!”

    Hope Santa brought you crackers.

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