Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran knows how to get attention. He has
famously picked a fight with Governor Scott, a fellow Republican, about
what he perceives as corporate welfare. He has criticized Florida’s
universities and promised to cut their budgets. Many political observers
believe he is getting ready to run for governor in the next election.
Corcoran has also proposed limiting the time Florida judges can spend in
office. Though this proposal has gotten less attention, it is deadly serious
for the court system and the principle of separation of powers. Under
Corcoran’s proposal, appeals courts judges in Florida would be limited
to two six-year terms, or no more than 12 years in office. After that,
they would have to move on to other work or retire.
Corcoran says judges need to be put on a shorter leash because their decisions
are “an edict from on high” and they just write law out of
“whole cloth.” Corcoran paints a picture of judges as arrogant
and out of touch, and suggests they just make legal decisions to suit
their personal preferences.
It’s hard to overstate how bad Corcoran’s proposal would be
for our judicial system. Here are just a few reasons:
●Every judge would have to ship out after 12 years. Even judges who are
universally respected would have to go do something else. The bench would
lose a great number of people with intellect, integrity, and a devotion
to public service. Court decisions would likely become less predictable
because of turnover in the judicial ranks.
●We already have a system that works. Judges who commit misconduct are
subject to investigation and discipline by the Judicial Qualifications
Commission and Florida Supreme Court. Even if a judge is not kicked off
the bench this way, they still have to face voters in retention elections.
Some troubled judges have stepped down rather than face voters.
●Term limits will make the job much less attractive. It makes sense that
we’d want the best and the brightest lawyers to become our judges.
However, lawyers who become judges have to give up a lot. Few talented
lawyers will be interested in giving up their practice and taking a pay
cut if they know they’ll have to start over 12 years down the road.
Most will choose to remain in the practices they’ve built, and the
talent pool will shrink.
●Capping judges at 12 years doesn’t guarantee that they won’t
behave badly. Any judge can act poorly at any time. But that’s not
all. Under Corcoran’s proposal, a judge in his or her second six-year
term will actually have a reduced incentive to work hard. They know they’ll
have to step down when their 12 years is up regardless of how much they
contribute. Term limits may actually invite judicial “senioritis”
instead of better behavior.
Corcoran’s proposal is a bad one. We urge voters to let their local