Abortion rights advocates urge Florida voters to reject all but one of the state Supreme Court justices on the ballot

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Vote-by-mail ballot dropoff sign in Pinellas County, Florida. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (Oct. 2018).

In the wake of the Dobbs ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned Roe v. Wade and put decisions about a woman’s right to choose in the hands of states, abortion rights advocates are urging Florida voters to reject all but one of the state Supreme Court justices on the ballot this year. 

Laura Lawson is a lawyer working to call attention to what’s known as a merit retention vote. That’s a yes or no vote on whether the justices should remain on the court for another six years. Lawson’s recommendation is this: 

“Vote yes on Justice Jorge Labarga and vote no on all four remaining justices,” she says. “I believe confidently after having researched this that they have committed to overturn choice in this state, to disrespect the privacy right in our constitution and to continue to move, because they have already been moving this court, in a direction that is inconsistent with the Florida Constitution and is inconsistent with the voters of the state.” 

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A political action committee is raising funds for the effort, and a website – faircourtsfl.com – provides an explanation of the process. In Florida, Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the governor, who chooses from a list of nominees by a board he appoints. But voters have the final say, Lawson notes. 

“We have this opportunity to make critical change because we have so many of these extremely right wing conservatives on the ballot at the same time as the abortion issue has been turned over to the states, at the same time that we have the opportunity to get a new governor,” Lawson says. 

Sean Shaw is a former state Senator whose father, as Chief Justice of Florida, wrote the opinion protecting the right to choose in the state. 

“Precedents of the court matter,” Shaw said. “You don’t just overturn the precedent of a court just because you disagree with it. You have to give some deference to those precedents. But you see how Roe v Wade  was eviscerated and I’m sure the same thing might happen in Florida and that’s why these merit retention races are important.” 

Retaining only Justice LaBarga and electing Democrat Charlie Crist as governor, Lawson says, will make a huge difference in the future of abortion rights in Florida. But even if Gov. Ron DeSantis is re-elected and the four justices are rejected, Lawson says, it will send a message to the court. 

“We’re creating a culture of accountability with the tools we have,” she says. “It’s a hidden part of the ballot, but it really is a place where the voters have power that they don’t realize they have.” 

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