Florida Supreme Court Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince talked with Stetson Law students about the importance of the judicial system

Florida Supreme Court Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara J. Pariente and Peggy A. Quince spoke with students at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport on March 26 about the role of the judicial system and Florida’s merit retention system. All three justices formerly served as chief justices of Florida’s highest court. Stetson Law Professor Theresa Radwan moderated a noon-time panel discussion with the three justices.

Professor Theresa Radwan led a panel discussion with Justice Peggy Quince, Fred Lewis and Barbara Pariente.

Professor Theresa Radwan led a panel discussion with (L-R) Justice Peggy Quince, Justice Fred Lewis and Justice Barbara Pariente.

Next November, voters will decide whether the justices will keep their jobs for another six-year term.

The process of merit selection of appellate judges was added to the Florida Constitution decades ago at the initiation of Florida then-Governor Reubin Askew and an amendment was added to the Florida Constitution in 1976 requiring appellate judges to stand for merit retention by vote.

Before merit retention, judges were chosen in partisan elections in which candidates ran as nominees of the Republican or Democratic parties. Campaigning judges sometimes used money donated by attorneys who practiced before them in court and several Florida judges were charged with ethics violations.

“If we want to keep a fair judicial system, it’s up to us,” Justice Quince told the Stetson Law students. “I think we have a good system where people have to be vetted to get on the court, and every six years we decide if these judges are doing their jobs.”

Quince said that the judicial system is intended to be a fair and impartial part of a functioning democracy. The one-time zoology major described how watching the Civil Rights Movement unfold piqued her interest in the law and inspired her to pursue a legal career.

“The essential role of any judge is to uphold the constitution and interpret the constitution,” Justice Pariente said, adding that judges cannot allow opinions to be influenced by the politics of the day.

Justice Lewis, a veteran of the U.S. Army, said that he believes firmly in the judicial branch’s ability to resolve human disputes through fairness. He told the law students in the audience, “By offering to participate, you will make the system better.”