Checks and balances and regicide
RICHARD L. HERSHATTER
History repeats itself
And nothing’s really new;
What’s happening in Florida
Proves that the claim is true.
The columnist Tom Brokaw wrote a book about people of the World War II era that he termed “The Greatest Generation.”
He was wrong, of course. Those who served in that justified war were indeed great, but the true greatest were those of George Washington’s generation.
World War II warriors were fighting in a Congressionally declared war to save the country and its government against enemies sworn to destroy everything that successive generations had fought to improve upon. Their battle was on behalf of the nation.
Washington and the founding fathers, on the other hand, were fighting against the established government, England under King George, in a historic struggle in which they were considered traitors by the “legitimate government” and by many Tory sympathizers here on these shores.
A loss meant hanging for all involved in the revolution.
Many did die, and prior to the revolution refugees from English tyranny, such as the three judges, John Dixwell, William Goffe and Edward Whalley, who had been labeled regicides and condemned to death for their roles as signatories of the death warrant of King Charles I, sought refuge in the colonies.
Their graves hold honored places in New Haven, Connecticut, where three streets are named after them.
After the success of the revolution, the founding fathers managed to put together a new, never tried before, form of government. Conscious of what it was like to live under governmental tyranny, they formulated a ruling system of three checks and balances: an Executive Branch, headed by a President, a Congress, representing the individual States, and an independent Judicial Branch, consisting of Federal Courts starting at a District level, with Appellate Divisions and ultimately the Supreme Court.
Each of the three branches were considered co-equal and hence a check on any one of the branches getting, in modern parlance, too big for its britches.
The system has lasted for 236 years, and if it may not be truly perfect, it is better than anything existing in the world today.
Of course, there have been strains from time to time and resentment especially directed toward the Supreme Court of the United States whose members, unlike those of the other two branches, serve for life. With lifetime tenure, the nine justices are immune from the vagaries of politics and are able to call the shots with true independence from the slings and arrows of the political system.
There is nothing unusual about strains. Any practicing lawyer can tell you that there are decisions he or she has disagreed with and judges they dislike. After all, one of the two sides in every trial is wrong.
But disagreeing with a judge and tossing him from office because of a differing view of the law are two separate things. The founding fathers set the system up to protect citizens from the tyranny of a government trying to exercise powers that would unbalance the system.
President Franklin Roosevelt, frustrated by rulings of the court holding some of his anti-depression programs unconstitutional, attempted to do an end run by trying to “pack” the court, increasing its membership to fifteen, instead of the historical nine.
In spite of the dire situation caused by the Great Depression, good sense prevailed, and the public wouldn’t let him do it.
But history does repeat, and today we have Florida’s Republican Party in a bare-faced attempt to unseat three of the seven justices of the Florida Supreme Court.
Justice Barbara Pariente, Justice Peggy Quince and Justice R. Fred Lewis have been targeted for removal at the November 6 election by the executive committee of the state Republican Party.
This unprecedented action is also being pursued by a Super PAC called Americans for Prosperity, as well as by the infamous billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch.
These are the same power groups responsible for Rick Scott having purchased the governorship at the last state election, with every poll taken since placing the governor on about the same popularity level as the current “do nothing” Congress of the United States.Under existing law, Florida Supreme Court justices are subject to a merit retention vote every six years, but such votes were originally intended to remove a justice for a lack of legal knowledge, integrity, judicial temperament or impartiality – not on disagreement with specific rulings.
The state’s Republican politicians have disagreed with the Court’s rulings on removing a constitutional amendment from the ballot, overturning private school vouchers and giving a killer a new trial.
The claim is that the offending three are “activist” judges, but their records prove otherwise. If successful, removing the three would give Republican Governor Scott the ability to appoint three solidly Republican justices to a court which is supposed to be non-political.
Hopefully, voters are smart enough to discern the despicable motivation behind the Republican Party’s actions.
If not, then maybe consideration should be given to renaming streets Quince Boulevard, Lewis Lane and Pariente Parkway, as was done for the three regicide judges so many years ago.
Richard L. Hershatter is a retired Connecticut lawyer and novelist who writes an occasional column of interest to Floridians. He can be reached at Banyan502@AOL.com.