Florida Supreme Court kicks lawsuit challenging six constitutional amendments down to lower courts

Florida’s Supreme Court on Tuesday kicked a lawsuit down to circuit courts in Leon County for the lower courts to decide whether to knock six constitutional amendments off the November ballot.

Harry Lee Anstead, a former Florida Supreme Court justice, and Robert Barnas first filed a lawsuit Aug. 14 in the Florida Supreme Court challenging six of the eight Constitution Revision Commission’s amendments proposed for the November ballot. The lawsuit said the way the amendments are written violates voters’ First Amendment rights by bundling issues together in an inconclusive and confusing way.

The Supreme Court did not say why the lower courts in Leon County are better suited to handling the case but said the action should not be interpreted as a decision or commentary on the case.

The situation is complicated because there are multiple challenging the different amendments.

Ronald Meyer is an attorney for a separate lawsuit specifically challenging the education-related Amendment 8 – which was included as one of the amendments in the Anstead/Barnas case.

Meyer said that the Anstead/Barnas case started in the Florida Supreme Court as opposed to beginning in a lower court.

“It is typical for the Supreme Court to want those kinds of cases to be initiated in the circuit court and work their way up,” Meyer said.

Meyer’s separate lawsuit on Amendment 8 will continue in the Florida Supreme Court after a Leon Circuit Court judge removed it from the ballot. Controversy over Amendment 8 centers around whether the state, instead of local school boards, can establish and monitor new schools. Oral arguments are set for Sept. 5.

Another amendment – Amendment 6— is also being challenged in a separate lawsuit. Amendment 6 relates to criminal justice and the retirement age for state judges. Oral arguments set for Sept. 5 as well.

The Constitution Revision Commission’s six amendments are each bundled into multiple topics which means voters may have to choose between supporting issues they do not like, or rejecting issues they otherwise would support, to pass what they think is most important.

“This is logrolling and 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,” the original lawsuit says.

Voters need a clear choice on the November ballot, the lawsuit says, “without paying the price of supporting a measure the voter opposes or opposing a measure the voter supports.”

The state filed its first response to Anstead and Barnas Aug. 20 where Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, on behalf of the state, defended the CRC’s proposals and said there are no single-subject limits imposed on the commission. Bondi said the commission’s process for crafting amendments already protects from “logrolling and deception.”

Bondi served as one of the 37 commissioners on last year’s Constitution Revision Commission, which meets once every 20 years.

CD Davidson-Hiers
CD Davidson-Hiers is a 2017 summa cum laude graduate of Florida State University with a degree in Creative Writing and French. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Golden Key honors societies, and has received multiple writing awards for fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Prior to joining the Florida Phoenix, CD worked at the Tallahassee Democrat and has bylines in Tallahassee Magazine. She is a native of Pensacola and currently lives in Tallahassee with her tabby cat, Faulkner.
Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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