In the Eye of the Hurricane: Florida Courts, Judicial Independence, and Politics

By Lanier, Drew Noble; Handberg, Roger B. | Fordham Urban Law Journal, February 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

In the Eye of the Hurricane: Florida Courts, Judicial Independence, and Politics

Lanier, Drew Noble, Handberg, Roger B., Fordham Urban Law Journal


Underlying many of the shrill arguments made in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential vote in Florida were questions regarding judicial independence. The concept of judicial independence is often expressed in absolutist terms, but the reality is more complex. Courts, regardless of their rhetoric, are political institutions, born of politics and subject to political whims.

Florida state courts are no exception. This Article connects the historic events of the 2000 presidential election to the larger question of how to balance what are often seen as incompatible variables: judicial independence and political accountability. (1)

The political and legal wrangling surrounding the 2000 presidential elections crystallized long-brewing public animosity towards the judiciary, particularly the Florida Supreme Court, perceived to be out-of-step politically with the rest of the state government. In this Article, we will discuss the concept of judicial independence, the political nature of courts, and efforts to insulate courts from the ordinary politics engulfing the popularly elected branches. We first review Florida's political history and changing political landscape. We then trace the development of the state's judicial selection processes and tie those processes to current legislation that the Florida legislature has considered and, in some cases, enacted in the wake of the 2000 Presidential election. Finally, we consider the likely consequences of efforts to diminish the insulation that the Florida courts enjoy from the politics of the day.


A. Politics Defined and Judicial Politics Explored

The key to understanding questions of judicial independence is to appreciate the political nature of courts. When we use the word "politics," we do not employ its pejorative variant. Rather, the definition we attach to politics is derived from the understanding that courts influence the policy-making process. In particular, we adopt the conventional definition of politics in our field: the process by which authoritative decisions are made about the allocation of goods in society. (2) Under this definition, judges have discretion, grounded in their respective jurisdiction, as to what judgments to render and whose interests to protect. They can support certain policies and outcomes while opposing others. Courts throughout the United States do so on a daily basis without arousing much public interest or controversy. (3)

While courts are certainly political institutions, they are also legal institutions that differ from the other political branches. Courts operate within a field of bounded discretion due to pre-existing rules that govern their decision-making. These include procedural and evidentiary rules that limit how and when courts can act and constrain a court's options when issuing a decision. Those rules inure to the legal system's benefit in that litigants and the public can generally anticipate how a court will react. This consistency gives the judiciary a greater legitimacy than that of the relatively unpredictable executive and legislative branches. Periodically, courts and their decisions captivate the public's attention. When their decisions are viewed to contradict the interests of the public, their behavior is often discussed at length. (4) In those highlighted situations, the policy-making power of the judiciary becomes apparent to even casual observers who may vigorously oppose the policy interests annunciated in the court's decision. This dynamic certainly was apparent during and following the presidential election in 2000. After that election, serious questions of judicial independence still linger.

B. Judicial Independence Defined

Judicial independence in America often resembles the proverbial elephant being examined by four blind men. Each reports a description of the beast based on touching the elephant in only one area.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

In the Eye of the Hurricane: Florida Courts, Judicial Independence, and Politics


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?