Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Pariente was a guest speaker at the NSU Shepard Broad Law Center on Nov. 1, where she addressed an audience of around 200.
Her visit was coordinated by the NSU chapter of the Young Lawyers Division of the Florida Bar, and was proposed by the chapter’s secretary, Danielle Kaye, second year law student. This event was created in order to educate not only law students, but the entire NSU community, on the issue of merit retention — a process for keeping state justices on the bench.
“A lot of students are not familiar with this electoral process for a fair and impartial judiciary, so we had Justice Pariente come to speak with students on this process — how it’s a part of our constitution and how it’s a real issue that perhaps needs to be changed in the future,” Kaye said.
Florencia Schwartz, junior legal studies major, said, “I didn’t know about the subject, so I found this to be a very informative event. Everyone should have this opportunity to learn about the subject.”
Justice Pariente has worked in the legal and judicial field for over 38 years, and currently stands as the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court of Florida. She was the second female justice appointed to the Florida Supreme Court. She has been honored with numerous awards, including being inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame by Governor Charlie Crist in 2008. She is also a breast cancer survivor.
After their six-year term, each state Supreme Court justice is placed on the ballot for U.S. citizens to vote on whether or not they should be retained in office. If the majority votes “no”, then that state justice’s seat becomes available and the governor ultimately decides who will fill that seat.
Kaye said, “Students need to know that they can make an impact on whether Justice Pariente continues her role because her job is in the hands of our society.”
NSU law professor Michael Dale introduced Pariente and described merit retention as “a crucial issue for law students, and frankly for the population at large.”
Pariente said, “the merit selection part is the key to merit retention.”
As Pariente explained, merit selection aims to provide a check on the governor’s power. The process sets up independent judicial nominating commissions, appointed mainly by the governor, but also from the Florida Bar. Those nine-member commissions review applications. The application seeks to find out everything possible about prospective judges and justices.
According to Pariente, the most qualified candidates are the judges that have the “demeanor to be respectful to all parts that come before that judge or justice.”
“Judges that are intellectually honest and hard-working, having integrity beyond reproach — that is what is part of the merit selection process,” Pariente said.
After the applicants are screened, three to six names are presented to the governor. The govenor then selects the justice or appellate whom he finds most qualified, depending on his own standards.
“That is a legitimate selection process, the merit selection process,” Pariente added.
The merit selection process contrasts the early 1970s method of Supreme Court and appeals court judge and justice selection. At that time, elected judges and justices ran as partisan positions, such as Republican or Democrat.
Pariente further emphasized the importance of a non-partisan judicial system, saying, “One of the questions we never ask is, ‘what is your party affiliation?’ That is irrelevant and has been primarily irrelevant for the last 36 years.”