Whether we’re from a big city like Miami or a small town like Sebastian, no one knows what’s right for our communities better than we do. That’s especially true when it comes to electing the people we count on to keep us safe, like our local state attorneys, judges, and public defenders. Every one of us deserves equal access to our justice system, but politicians in Tallahassee want to tell our local communities how best to protect public safety, taking away those decisions from the people who live, work, and raise their families here every day.
On June 15, House Speaker Paul Renner shook the state with an unexpected proposal to consolidate Florida’s existing twenty judicial circuits. While he argued this move could save money and streamline the judicial process, many suspect a different agenda at play. Concerns have arisen that this consolidation effort is, in reality, an attempt to gerrymander the state’s judicial districts. In response, the Supreme Court created a Judicial Circuit Assessment Committee to report its findings by December 1.
Almost immediately, speculation began to swirl that Florida Republicans, with the support of Governor Ron DeSantis, were out to gerrymander the state’s judicial districts to make it more difficult for progressive or reform-minded prosecutors to win election. Those suspicions gained steam following the Governor’s suspension of duly-elected State Attorney Monique Worrell on August 9, which came just more than a year after his previous suspension of State Attorney Andrew Warren for overtly political reasons.
Eighteen of the twenty elected state attorneys in Florida sent letters to the committee, with none of them supporting the idea and many writing in opposition to the plan. The Republican State Attorney for Monroe County even went so far as to tell Florida Politics that, “It’s my understanding and my belief that this is being done to water down the support for the State Attorneys that have been removed so they can’t win an election in 2024.”
While the Republican Speaker and his allies have presented the plan as a way to save taxpayers money and make the courts more efficient, the reality is that the exact opposite is likely to occur, while also putting equal access to the justice system at risk. In actuality, Florida’s court system is underfunded because of decisions made by the legislature in Tallahassee, which have left the courts struggling to retain attorneys and support staff due to low salaries and large judicial backlogs caused by the lack of staff available to work on cases. Consolidation could make this issue even worse, increasing caseloads on new judicial circuits which would be stretched even more thin while trying to serve potentially larger populations.
For those who must access the courts, consolidation could mean longer travel times and judges and attorneys who are not as familiar with the local issues they may be facing. As we all know, the issues of Miami-Dade can be far different than those in Indian River County, as outlined by Republican State Representative for Monroe County Jim Mooney, who stated, “I think it really gets down to every district has their own nuances as how they apply the laws. But, you know, one size doesn’t fit all.”
With a recommendation due by December, attention on this attempted judicial gerrymander is increasing, with bipartisan pressure growing by the day to reject this undemocratic attack on our court systems in Florida. We must protect our values as a democratic society where voters’ voices are respected and where our local communities have the freedom to elect the people they believe will best represent them. When it comes to public safety, these decisions should be made by everyday Floridians, not power-hungry politicians in Tallahassee.