Abortion rights protesters gather in front of the Florida Supreme Court on May 3, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown
Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried questioned Friday whether the Florida Supreme Court can be trusted to fairly decide whether a ballot initiative to protect abortion rights can go on the 2024 General Election ballot.
She fears, Fried said during a conference call with reporters, that the justices — all appointed by Republicans, including five placed on the bench by Gov. Ron DeSantis — will behave as political actors rather than impartial jurists.
“As an attorney it breaks my heart to even say these things out loud, that I do not have complete confidence and faith in the current Supreme Court, that has been stacked by Republican governors and under ideological decisions to put them on the bench,” Fried said.
Fried appeared on the call with Central Florida Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in advance of the “Florida Freedom Summit,” organized by the state GOP for Kissimmee on Saturday. The scheduled speakers include Republican candidates for president, including Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Donald President Trump, plus state Republican luminaries and fellow travelers.
The location lies within Soto’s district.
Fried mocked the Republican’s “freedom” pieties.
“They have turned this state into ground zero for MAGA extremism. Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have worked overtime to roll back our rights, in the right to control our health-care decisions, to the right to be safe in our communities, and to our children’s right to learn the full history in school,” she said.
“And Donald Trump paved the way for reversal of Roe v. Wade. Ron DeSantis and Florida Republicans passed one of the strictest abortion bans in the nation, even though a majority of Floridians reject a six-week ban. DeSantis’ near-total ban would take away women’s ability to make their own health-care decisions before many even know they’re pregnant, threatens to throw doctors in jail and to force women and young girls to flee the state for care or carrying out a medically risky pregnancy,” she added.
Fried also decried a new state law allowing permitless gun carry without safety training and state Republicans’ push to control what books children can read and version of history they’re taught in public schools.
“Every 2024 Republicans has made it clear that we cannot trust them to put the safety of our families and our communities in our hands,” she said.
“As Republicans fight each other in a race to the bottom this weekend and on the debate stage next week, I hope Floridians will see who is really fighting for them,” Fried added.
Soto described the event as “best in show in an extreme MAGA competition.” Noting that Orlando was the site of the 2016 Pulse nightclub mass shooting, he said, “They’re agents of chaos and Florida families can’t afford it.”
Abortion and the court
Regarding the abortion amendment, the court’s job is to decide whether a ballot summary prepared by initiative sponsors explaining to voters what it would do would mislead them and whether the measure confines itself to a single subject.
“Anything above that is outside of their realm of responsibility when looking at a constitutional ballot initiative,” Fried said.
“My hope is that they understand that this language is very narrowly tailored, single subject, and there would be no legal reasons based on our statutes and our constitution where the ballot initiative should be kicked off and not accepted onto the 2024 ballot.”
If the court accedes to Republican state Attorney General Ashley Moody’s request that it reject the initiative, “it will create a situation here in the state of Florida where you will see a lot more individuals getting engaged in this conversation, because they will have realized that their democracy was just stripped away from them and that they’ve got to spend more time protecting that democracy.”
In addition to judging the abortion amendment language, the state Supreme Court is also considering the constitutionality of Florida’s 15-week abortion ban. The court ruled in 1989 that the Florida Constitution’s privacy clause protects abortion access by few are confident the DeSantis court will sustain that precedent.
Soto was asked about legislation the U.S. House Republicans pushed the day before giving $14.3 billion in aid to Israel in its war against Hamas while cutting funding for the Internal Revenue Service by the same amount. The bill, which stands no chance of passing the Senate and drew a veto threat President Joe Biden, also stiffs support for Ukraine, Taiwan, or U.S. border enforcement.
Half of the eight Democrats from Florida supported the bill, including Soto. All Florida Republicans voted yes.
“Many Florida Democrats felt it was important to stand with Israel during these difficult times,” Soto explained.
“The bill has some flaws that need to be addressed in conference as it goes to the Democratic majority in the Senate. The Republicans never should have put everyone in this position to have to cut IRS funding to make sure billionaires and millionaires pay their fair share. We should see that be remedied as it goes to the Senate, along with the leadership of the president,” he said.
Asked about two other major issues — climate change and insurance costs. The Florida Legislature has been trying to contain the latter, including through limiting lawsuits against insurers that Republicans blame for driving up prices, without much success thus far. One of the items planned during a special legislative session next week is to ease a backlog in applications for a state program that subsidized storm hardening for people’s homes.
Soto argues climate change and the insurance crisis are linked.
“The insurance industry has been crystal clear after their [state legislative Republican] reforms where they said that property insurance will go down, the industry has said point blank it will still go up because of climate change because it is continuing to add to the risk to homeowners in Florida,” Soto said.
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