On Friday, ThinkProgress reported that a Pennsylvania Tea Party group vowed revenge against two state supreme court justices who joined a recent decision that unanimously rejected a lower court order upholding a voter suppression law. Now, the Florida GOP wants to play this game as well:
The party announced late Friday that its board voted unanimously this week to oppose the retention of Supreme Court Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince, who were all appointed by Democratic former Gov. Lawton Chiles and who have ruled against several major priorities of Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration.
If the justices are not retained, Scott would appoint replacements.
“While the collective evidence of judicial activism amassed by these three individuals is extensive, there is one egregious example that all Florida voters should bear in mind when they go to the polls on election day,” said spokeswoman Kristen McDonald in a statement. “These three justices voted to set aside the death penalty for a man convicted of tying a woman to a tree with jumper cables and setting her on fire.”
The Florida GOP’s decision to base its PR campaign against these justices around a death penalty decision is rather ghoulish, but it is both familiar and unsurprising. Twenty-six years ago, California Republicans led a $5.6 million campaign to oust California Chief Justice Rose Bird and two of her colleagues. Although the campaign outwardly focused on the death penalty, its top supporters included the Independent Oil Producers Agency, the Western Growers Association, the late anti-tax activst Howard Jarvis and the Free Market Political Action Committee. Bird’s opponents knew they couldn’t run an effective campaign by attacking her for being insufficiently friendly to wealthy corporations and other interest groups, so they chose instead to hide their true motives by focusing on the death penalty.
In 1996, Tennessee conservatives ran a similar playbook, ousting Justice Penny White because she voted to overturn a single death sentence. Significantly, only 19 percent of the state’s voters participated in the retention election, demonstrating the ability of a well-funded campaign to shape the outcome of a judicial race, since the campaign only needs to rally a small group of voters in these very low profile elections.
It now appears that the Florida Republican Party is operating off the same playbook. Like the California corporate and anti-tax groups that helped turn out Rose Bird, however, it is likely that the Florida Republicans are far more concerned with giving control of the state supreme court to Rick Scott than they are with eight year old death penalty cases.