Florida Supreme Court Kicks Amendment 7 off ballot, calling it "misleading"

The court's ruling reads: "We hold that the ballot language holding forth the substance of Amendment 7 does not inform the voter of the true purpose and effect of the amendment on existing constitutional provisions and, further, is misleading. Accordingly...Amendment 7 many not be placed on the general election ballot for November 2010."

AUGUST 31, 2010

Orlando Sentenial

Supremes refuse to put redistricting, property tax and health amendments back on the ballot

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld lower-court decisions to remove three legislatively drafted constitutional amendments dealing with property tax breaks, redistricting and the federal health-care reform from the Nov. 2 ballot.

Leon County judges had removed Amendments 3, 7 and 9 from the ballot this summer because they deemed their summaries for voters to be too confusing — and a majority of the justices on Florida’s high court agreed, delivering a blow to Republican legislative leasders who had pushed the measures.

Earlier this month, House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon took the unusual step of appearing before the court to defend Amendment 7, which would have given lawmakers broader power to draw political districts regardless of other standards currently in the Constitution. Critics said it would have also weakened Amendments 5 and 6, which are also on the ballot and seek to limit lawmakers’ power to gerrymander districts.

Cannon, a Winter Park Republican and lawyer, was a key architect of Amendment 7, which would broaden lawmakers’ powers during the once-a-decade redistricting process that re-draws legislative and congressional maps.

Amendment 7 was the Republican-controlled Legislature’s response to Amendments 5 and 6, put on the ballot by a coalition of trial lawyers, unions and good-government types and intended to limit legislators’ powers to gerrymander districts to help incumbents and their political party hold onto power.

But Leon County Circuit Judge James Shelfer concluded last month that Amendment 7 was misleading, noting it took him three days to figure out that the amendment would supersede every other standard for redistricting. Specifically, it would allow lawmakers to lump together in districts communities of racial and language-minorities, as well as “communities of common interest.”

“That doesn’t tell me anything,” said Justice Peggy Quince during a hearing on the amendment this month. “I can understand racial and language minorities, but what in the world is a ‘community of interest?’”

The high court on Tuesday also rejected another lawsuit filed by opponents of Amendments 5 and 6 — including U. S. Reps. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Mario Diaz-Balartof Miami — that sought to have both of those measured removed from the ballot.

The court also refused to put back on the ballot Amendment 3, which would have given Save Our Homes-styled property tax breaks to first-time home buyers. This summer, a Leon County circuit judge ruled voters might mistakenly think all homeowners got the break.

Lastly, Amendment 9 was an attempt to water down the federal health-care mandate requiring people to have insurance, but was also deemed misleading by the high court and now won’t go to voters.

The high court voted 5-2 to keep Amendments 7 and 9 off the ballot, with the two dissents coming from Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Ricky Polston. Canady, who wrote the dissent, argued the high court had allowed the Legislature to substitute the actual language of an amendment for a confusing ballot summary in 2004, and should have done so this time.



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