Florida Could See Term Limits for Top State Judges

Florida could become the first state in the country to impose a cap on how long State Supreme Court and appellate judges can serve.

A push by House Speaker Richard Corcoran to limit how long top judges can remain on the bench is moving in the Florida House.

With an 8-7 vote, a sharply divided House panel approved a measure (HJR 1) that would ask the state's voters to approve a 12-year term limit for all Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges. If passed by the Florida Legislature it would go before voters in 2018, where it would need 60% support to officially become an amendment to the Florida Constitution.

Justices and appeals court judges can currently serve until they are at the age of 70 but must go before voters every six years for a merit retention vote. However, no justice has been booted from the bench by such a vote in decades.

“An accountability system that does not hold people truly accountable is not an accountability system,” said Republican Representative Jennifer Sullivan.

Opponents say the amendment would undercut the independence of the judicial branch and argued it would lead to less people seeking to become judges. Other critics say it is a pure revenge play by Corcoran against the judiciary because of unfavorable rulings.

The three South Florida representatives on the House Civil Justice and Claims subcommittee all voted against the measure, including Democrats Cynthia Stafford from Miami and Barbara Watson from Miami Gardens as well as Republican George Moraitis from Fort Lauderdale. 

If the amendment were to pass, current justices would be grandfathered in but the new policy would apply to all judges who are appointed in 2019 and beyond.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

(Photo credit: Tim Sloane)

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