The U.S. Supreme Court and the two Republicans duking it out to succeed Gov. Rick Scott unintentionally helped ramp up enthusiasm for Florida Democrats in advance of the Democrats’ big blue bash this weekend.
The court handed down a series of victories for President Donald Trump, including a union-bashing decision that doesn’t directly affect Florida but will shrink the coffers of public-sector unions that typically dump major dollars behind Democratic candidates.
The court also upheld the latest version of Trump’s ban on travel from some predominantly Muslim countries, creating an uproar among civil libertarians and immigration advocates who accuse the president of having declared war on Islam.
But the most chilling news for Democrats was the decision of 81-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy to retire, giving Trump the power to reshape the Supreme Court for generations to come by locking down a conservative majority with which Kennedy sometimes parted ways.
Kennedy’s most memorable decisions kept abortion rights intact, cemented same-sex marriage in all states and maintained the use of affirmative-action policies at universities. He also voted to do away with excessive sentences for juveniles and people with intellectual disabilities.
Kennedy’s decision to leave the bench “sends a stark message to the tens of millions of Americans who have long turned to the court for the vindication of many of their most cherished rights and protections: Look somewhere else,” editors at The New York Times warned.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee knows where he wants voters to cast their eyes. He’s the head of the Democratic Governors Association and will be the keynote speaker at the Florida Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue event this weekend in Hollywood.
“People understand what a threat Donald Trump poses. People understand you can’t depend on the Supreme Court to save us from Donald Trump. You’ve got to have Democratic governors to save us,” Inslee said in a telephone interview.
The Dems have a crowded field of five major candidates vying for the open governor’s seat in Florida, and, like their cohorts throughout the nation, they’ve all made Trump their top target.
Inslee said he doesn’t think that strategy will backfire in November.
“There’s no Republican Party at this point. There’s just the Trump party. We’re not putting this around anybody’s neck. They put the noose around their own neck,” the governor said.
Democrats throughout the country — including in Florida, where Democratic and Republican voter registration is almost evenly split, and independents make up a little more than a quarter of the electorate — “are really, really, intensely, passionately energized about voting” this year, according to Inslee.
Democrats will unite following the primary to support the alternative to GOP gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam or Ron DeSantis, who Inslee called “Republicans who are going to be slavishly devoted to Donald Trump.”
“Florida’s a big state, and a dynamic state, and a very winnable race. So for all those reasons, this is a very top-tier priority for us,” Inslee said.
PUTTING THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE
Liberals might be lamenting the U.S. Supreme Court’s other decisions this week, but many Floridians are doing the happy dance following a ruling in the Sunshine State’s favor in a long-running “water war” with our neighbor to the north.
The court on Wednesday decided that the nation’s third-largest state should be given another chance to prove its case that overconsumption of water in Georgia is damaging the Apalachicola River system.
The 5-4 decision, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, overturned a 2017 recommendation by a court-appointed special master that found Florida had not proven its case “by clear and convincing evidence” that imposing a cap on Georgia’s water use would benefit Florida water systems, including oyster-rich Apalachicola Bay in Franklin County.
Breyer said the special master had “applied too strict a standard” in rejecting Florida’s claim.
“To require ‘clear and convincing evidence’ about the workability of a (water) decree before the court or a special master has a view about likely harms and likely amelioration is, at least in this case, to put the cart before the horse,” Breyer wrote.
The immediate impact of the decision is to send the case back to Ralph Lancaster, a Maine lawyer who was appointed as a special master by the Supreme Court to oversee the dispute.
Florida filed the lawsuit in 2013, although the case is only the latest iteration of a decades-old battle about the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system, which starts in Georgia and flows south to Florida.
Among the key questions Lancaster will have to settle is whether an “equity-based cap” on Georgia’s water consumption in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system would increase the water flow into the Apalachicola River and whether the amount of that extra water would “significantly redress the economic and ecological harm that Florida has suffered,” the opinion said.
The special master could also seek further findings on his preliminary rulings that Florida had suffered harm from the overconsumption of water by Georgia. And the future deliberations will have to weigh Georgia’s claims that any limits on its water use would undermine its economy, including the growth of the Atlanta area and the state’s agriculture industry in southwestern Georgia.
“We repeat, however, that Florida will be entitled to a decree only if it is shown that ‘the benefits of the (apportionment) substantially outweigh the harm that might result,’ ” the court said.
GOP GLOVES COME OFF
In an exchange focused more on national topics than challenges facing the next Florida governor, DeSantis and Putnam clashed in a televised debate Thursday over their support for Trump and immigration issues.
Early in the hour-long debate, which was broadcast to a national audience by Fox News, the GOP foes quickly turned to the key themes of their campaigns.
“I’m proud to have the endorsement of President Donald Trump in this race,” said DeSantis, a three-term congressman from Palm Coast, while responding to a question about the appointment of a new U.S. Supreme Court justice.
In a question about Trump’s upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Putnam said he was proud to support Trump’s agenda, including negotiations with foreign leaders, tax cuts and efforts to improve the country’s trade policies.
“But I’m running a Florida first campaign. I care more about the schools in Washington County than what’s going on in Washington, D.C.,” said Putnam, the Florida agriculture commissioner who is also a former congressman and state lawmaker.
Putnam, who supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the presidential primary in 2016, was asked if he would endorse Trump in his 2020 re-election bid.
“Most assuredly. I look forward to campaigning with him as governor of Florida,” Putnam said.
But DeSantis shot back that it “would be the first time you ever campaigned with him,” noting the agriculture commissioner’s absence during Trump’s primary campaign in 2016.
“You couldn’t find Adam Putnam if you had a search warrant,” DeSantis said.
STORY OF THE WEEK: In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court gave Florida another chance to prove its case that Georgia’s overconsumption of water is damaging the Apalachicola River system.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Acceptance of responsibility is not to repeatedly testify before the Hearing Panel that you relied on others and yet voice the magic words, ‘I accept responsibility.’ ” — Lawyers for the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which oversees judges’ behavior, referring to former 7th Judicial Circuit Judge Scott DuPont. The Florida Supreme Court removed DuPont from the bench on Monday.