TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Supreme Court tossed out a petition Thursday that was attempting to stop Republican Gov. Rick Scott from appointing three Supreme Court justices on the day he leaves office.
The court said it couldn’t rule on an action that hadn’t yet happened, but the majority expressed no opinion on whether Scott would have the right to replace three justices who are forced to retire on the same day his replacement is sworn in.
The Florida branch of the League of Women Voters and the government watchdog group Common Cause filed a petition with the Supreme Court in June saying Scott’s successor should make the appointments. Their petition was filed after Scott said he intends to nominate three justices the morning he leaves office because of term limits.
“Although Governor Scott announced his intent to appoint the replacements for three justices of this Court, clearly no appointments have been made,” the court said in its opinion. “Until some action is taken by the Governor, the matter the League seeks to have resolved is not ripe.”
The issue is one the Republican-dominated Legislature hoped to resolve through a constitutional amendment it placed on the ballot in 2014. The goal was to ensure that Scott would control the picks by placing in the constitution a provision that spells out the outgoing governor can appoint justices retiring at the same time they leave office. But 52 percent of voters rejected the idea — far from the 60 percent support it needed to pass.
“I am pleased that the court upheld Florida law today and dismissed the challenge brought by these political organizations. As long as I am governor, I will continue to use my authority to appoint qualified judges,” Scott said in a statement emailed by his office.
The issue is likely not going away.
Age limits are forcing three justices to retire on the same day Florida’s next governor is takes office in January 2019. Scott has said he plans to name their replacements that same morning.
The decision could change the balance of the court for decades. If Scott gets his way, the seven-member court will be stacked with six conservative judges as more liberal justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince step down.
Florida League of Women President Pamela Goodman said she was waiting for the group’s lawyers to review the court’s decision before commenting on it.
“Clearly what we were trying to do is avoid what we believe would be a constitutional crisis,” she said.