The Florida Supreme Court said Friday it will hear arguments this fall in a case that could help shape the future of the court.
The Supreme Court scheduled arguments for Nov. 1 in a battle about whether Gov. Rick Scott will have the authority to appoint as many as three new justices as he leaves office in January 2019.
The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause filed the lawsuit in June, seeking a ruling that would allow Scott's successor to appoint the new justices. The outcome of the case could play a big role in the future makeup of the Supreme Court, particularly if a Democrat is elected in November 2018 to replace Scott, a Republican.
Three justices widely viewed as part of a liberal bloc —- justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince —- will have to leave the court in January 2019 because of a mandatory retirement age.
Scott's attorneys argue that he has the constitutional authority to pick replacements for the justices. They also argued in a document filed last month that the lawsuit should be dismissed because it presumes that a future dispute will occur about the appointments. The document, for example, said the three justices could step down from the Supreme Court before January 2019.
“Petitioners do not challenge any specific executive action that has been taken by the governor, but rather seek the court's opinion regarding the scope of the governor's executive authority to act in the future under a hypothetical set of facts,” the document said.
But attorneys for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause fired back this week in a court document that said Scott has already made clear he plans to appoint replacements. As a result, attorneys for the voting-rights groups said the Supreme Court should resolve the issue in advance instead of waiting for a legal battle after Scott makes appointments in January 2019.
“The governor's intended action, if not stopped now, will create a constitutional crisis and severely impact the work of this court,” the document filed Monday said.
A key issue in the case deals with when the terms of Scott and the three justices end. The voting-rights groups contend that Scott's term ends at the start of Jan. 8, 2019, while the justices' terms run through that day.
Scott's attorneys reject the groups' interpretation, saying that the justices' terms end at the beginning of Jan. 8, while the governor remains in office until his successor takes the oath. The oath has often been administered around noon, which would give Scott time to make the appointments.