The message reproduced below was written by Doug Eaton, current President of the Miami-Dade Justice Assocation, and published in the organization's Spring 2011 newsletter. It is extremely well-written and addresses an issue of utmost importance to the residents of Florida. I agree wholeheartedly with the opinions expressed by Mr. Eaton.
Each spring, our elected leaders gather in Tallahassee for two months, ostensibly to serve the citizens of this state. Each year, the legislature instead launches another assault against the right of access to the court. And each year, the rights of the citizens of this state are eroded, sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically. This session, however, the assault has landed squarely in the latter category. The Speaker of the House, Dean Cannon, has proposed numerous bills each designed to limit the power of and undermine the independence of the Judiciary. The motivating belief behind each of Cannon's proposed "reforms" is that the Judiciary is not a co-equal branch of government and should not be in the business of questioning the legality of the actions of the legislature. If any of Cannon's measures pass, they will have an immediate and deleterious effect on the court's ability to act as the last refuge for the powerless from the powerful. They will undermine the Judiciary's ability to provide protection for the minority from the tyranny of majority. Our Court system, unfortunately, has become the sole remaining repository for the founding idea of our country, namely that we are a country of laws, not men, and certainly not money.
When our elected leaders have been reluctant to act to correct injustice, our Courts have always provided an avenue to do so. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued Brown v. Board of Education, ending the U.S. policy of racial segregation in schools, fully seven years before the U.S. legislature would pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Eight years later, in 1972, my Grandfather, Judge Joe Eaton, issued an order desegregating Palm Beach County Schools, which like many school districts, had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twentieth century. Throughout the Civil Rights Era, it was the Courts who were always far ahead of the Legislatures in protecting the interests of minorities. There was no doubt that these decisions were wildly unpopular at the time they were issued, and had they been issued today, the courageous Judges who rendered them would no doubt be labeled "Activist Judges" or worse. But during this era, the concept of separation of powers was still recognized and Judges were permitted to make difficult decisions without fear of political retribution.
Contrast the Civil Rights Era to today's hyper-partisan environment. In 2009, in Varnum v. Brien, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously struck down a statutory same sex marriage ban as unconstitutional. Once again, the Judiciary stood as the only impediment to the majority's ability to deprive a minority group of their rights. But in an unprecedented and extraordinarily disturbing act of retribution, the three Iowa Supreme Court Justices on the ballot in 2010 were voted out of office, solely as punishment for their courage in protecting minority rights.
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