Orlando Sentinel. September 13, 2023.
Editorial: Florida Supreme Court justices parrot fiction on 15-week abortion ban
When lawyers opposing Florida’s 15-week limit on safe, legal abortions arrived at the majestic state Supreme Court building Friday, they knew they faced long odds. This court is stacked with supporters of Gov. Ron DeSantis, and the willingness to trash precedent and ignore the history of Florida’s clear protections for medical privacy were almost certainly used as private litmus tests as DeSantis weighed his high-court picks.
And while it’s normally not a good idea to rely on the questions justices ask at oral arguments to predict how the court might rule, Friday’s comments leave us pretty confident that a majority of the court is willing to play along with the prevailing view that — up until about 14 months ago when Roe v. Wade was overturned — nobody really understood Florida’s constitutional privacy protections.
Legislators who put the issue on the ballot in 1980? Didn’t know what they were doing.
Prior Supreme Court justices who ruled in 1989 that abortion decisions were about as private and personal as a decision could be, and clearly protected in Florida to a far greater degree than they were by federal law — a ruling they echoed in 2003? They were wrong.
Different lawmakers, who put amendments on the ballot in 2006 and 2012 meant to punch holes in the privacy clause to allow abortion restrictions? Wasting their time.
And the voters who went to the polls each time and made their wishes perfectly clear? Those folks moaning about other rights that could be lost, such as the right to say “no” to a vaccine or parents’ rights to make educational decisions for their kids? Who cares about them?
Ignorance or pretense
That came through loud and clear in the questions Justice John Couriel repeatedly fired at ACLU lawyer Whitney Leigh White last week about the debate in 1980,k when the privacy clause was placed on the ballot. If medical privacy was meant to be covered by the original amendment, “…you’d expect to see groups like Planned Parenthood and Right to Life debating that in 1980,” Couriel said. “How do you explain that?”
The answer to that question is simple: In 1980, access to safe, legal abortion was clearly protected by federal law as well. There was no need for it to come up. But other deeply personal liberties — including protection for LGBTQ+ Floridians — were not nearly as well protected. Backers of the amendment, leery of tying their language to overtly controversial topics, tried to ward off talk about drug use and homosexuality. But news coverage and floor debate made it clear that most Floridians saw the 1980 amendment as expansive, covering personal decisions as well as access to intimate information.
Couriel’s ignorance — willful or not — might be forgivable in some situations. After all, he was only two years old when the privacy clause was placed on the ballot. Other DeSantis picks are similarly inexperienced, yet seemed equally smug and misinformed as they questioned White.
What’s inexcusable, however, is their blindness to the misery Florida’s 15-week ban is causing right now, including women who have suffered serious health consequences because they couldn’t get abortions for pregnancies that were no longer viable, and at least one young teen who was denied an abortion that resulted from a rape.
How does forcing women to continue pregnancies against their will, despite real risks to their health or their status as victims of sexual assault, square with Florida’s clear protection for the “right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life?” This group of DeSantis picks may not understand history. But they should be able to read plain English.
Canady should recuse himself
One justice, however, clearly understands this issue inside and out. That’s because Charles Canady has been on the front lines in the assault on reproductive freedom for most of his political career — and because he’s married to the lawmaker who sponsored Florida’s even more onerous ban on abortions after just five weeks of pregnancy.
This is a clear, blatant violation of Florida’s long-standing standards that require justices to step out of cases — known as recusing themselves — where they have an obvious conflict of interest. While he served in Congress, Canady was the chief driver behind early attempts to set time limits on abortion; he’s even credited with popularizing the deceptive term “partial birth abortion” and coming up with gruesome scenarios that equated medically necessary procedures with infanticide.
With nearly two decades of experience as an appellate judge following his congressional service, Canady must also know the rules governing recusal. He’s seen U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh step out of cases involving Johnson and Johnson, because his father once lobbied for the baby-products corporation, and Justice Elena Kagan recuse herself from cases (including, in June, the decision to re-hear the appeal of a Broward County death-row inmate) because she was U.S. solicitor general when previous appeals were being carried out.
Yet Canady sat at the dais on Friday, saying little, but exhibiting the clear intention of participating in deliberations on the 15-week ban. He knows his vote isn’t even needed in this case; the five justices DeSantis appointed constitute a resounding majority on the seven-member court.
The only argument anyone is offering in Canady’s defense is that none of the attorneys fighting the 15-week ban has asked him to recuse himself. That’s a sorry excuse. With a conflict this glaring, any justice as experienced and canny as Canady should be able to see that he’s swinging a wrecking ball at the integrity of Florida’s judiciary.
He should step down. And if he doesn’t, the state Judicial Qualification Commission should ask him to explain why he didn’t.
Miami Herald. September 14, 2023.
Editorial: Florida arrests an alleged neo-Nazi. That won’t stop our hate problem under DeSantis
The state of Florida actually arrested an alleged neo-Nazi this week on charges relating to those stomach-turning antisemitic demonstrations that keep happening in Orlando.
Great. Now can the governor give a speech denouncing neo-Nazis?
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said a 48-year-old Cape Canaveral man named Jason James Brown was part of a group of camouflage-wearing hatemongers who hung a swastika flag, along with racist and white-power signs, off a bridge so that eastbound Interstate 4 drivers could see them. Three other people are still being sought by FDLE.
Amazingly enough, the FDLE was able to charge Brown with violating a law passed by the Florida Legislature this year and signed by none other than Gov. Ron DeSantis. Called the “public nuisances” law, the measure makes it illegal to intentionally display or project messages on a property without written consent.
DeSantis had to do something: He’s running for president, and antisemitic incidents have more than doubled in Florida since 2020, according to the Anti-Defamation League. That DeSantis signed the bill during a trip to Jerusalem about three weeks before he announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination was no coincidence.
Florida had the fourth-highest number of such incidents in the country in 2022. The string of Orlando demonstrations has been an assault on human decency. Horrendous, vast swastikas have been projected onto the sides of buildings in Jacksonville and West Palm Beach. Flyers with antisemitic propaganda have been dumped on lawns in Florida communities.
In Tampa last summer, neo-Nazis waved flags with swastikas and white-supremacist SS bolts outside a major Republican conference, Turning Point USA’s Student Action Summit. Horrifyingly, among the placards with antisemitic slurs, someone unfurled a “DeSantis Country” flag.
In July, DeSantis’ presidential campaign fired a staffer who reportedly either made or retweeted a video that included Nazi imagery superimposed onto the Florida governor’s face.
Earlier this month outside Disney World, antisemitic groups including the one Brown is allegedly a member of — something called the “Order of the Black Sun” — performed Hitler salutes and shouted hateful things about Jews.
And in late August, a white gunman with a swastika-emblazoned assault-style rifle killed three Black people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville.
Yes, it’s good that the Legislature passed this bill and DeSantis signed it. Even better: The law is being used by diligent members of the law enforcement community to push back on anti-Semitism. FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass on Wednesday thanked DeSantis “for the signing of HB 269, giving us the tools to arrest this hate-filled radical.” Was it deployed in this moment for political purposes, as DeSantis struggles against Donald Trump for the GOP nomination? Who knows. At least it was deployed.
But it’s no surprise that racists and neo-Nazis and every other hate-filled lowlife have seen this moment, with DeSantis at the helm, as an opening in Florida. And it’ll take a lot more than one arrest to stop it.
Tampa Bay Times. September 19, 2023.
Editorial: What hurricanes can teach Florida about dealing with other threats
How does the state prepare for unforeseen disasters?
Floridians have one benefit living in Hurricane Alley: The state has become enormously capable of managing these storms. But what about disasters that don’t present themselves days in advance — like tornadoes, flooding or a condominium collapse? These present unique dangers to this crowded, coastal state, and authorities last week took a good step toward confronting the unknown.
Elected officials and emergency managers gathered in South Florida on Friday to discuss resilience and rescue operations. State and local officials agreed that Florida knows how to respond to hurricanes. A tougher task is managing the unexpected, as the South Florida Sun Sentinel described in a report from the meeting.
“There’s so many different types of emergencies. We seem to have the hurricane one down pat because we practice that all the time,” said Democratic state Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, who represents northwest Broward County. But as Kevin Guthrie, who heads Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, asked those assembled: “How are you at the no-notice event?”
Hurricanes are large, unpredictable storms that can rapidly intensify and change direction as they near landfall. But modern forecasting generally provides residents and authorities with days to prepare, arming Floridians with hurricane warnings, evacuation maps and other data to make informed decisions.
What Florida hasn’t drilled so thoroughly for are disasters that rear in the moment, from tornadoes and surprise flooding to catastrophic building failures, such as the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside in 2021, which killed 98 people. Scores of officials brainstormed last week over how to better respond to such tragedies, and a few sensible ideas emerged.
Communicate. The state’s communication plan for hurricanes is simple and effective. The governor flies to communities in the path to warn residents and to reassure them that help is coming when the storm is over. Local officials get out the word on sandbags, evacuations and shelters. It may sound mundane, but people turn to government in times of crisis for clear advice and words of support. Officials need to be visible, clear and authoritative — and that’s doubly important when the unexpected happens.
Delegate. Governors and mayors should stick to messaging and let their professionals in emergency management see to the details. Emergency management operations have come a long way in recent years. Elected officials should support these agencies but resist the temptation to micromanage every aspect of a disaster response. The best generals listen to their commanders in the field, and there’s no time in these emergencies to disrupt the chain of command that an orderly response relies on.
Prioritize. No crisis evaporates overnight. With any disaster, officials need to restore the basics (water, power, communications) and provide a safe environment to recover. Guthrie, the state’s disaster chief, urged attendees at the gathering to “think very simple” in establishing priorities. Are disabled cars blocking roadways? Are blocked drain lines worsening flooding? How can government better target its resources, or enlist the private sector, to get communities more quickly back on their feet?
Preparation is key, but so is learning from every disaster to see what might work better next time. Florida may be on its game with hurricanes, but this changing climate poses a range of threats that this growing state must manage.
South Florida Sun Sentinel. September 19, 2023.
Editorial: Risking lives in Florida for political ambition
Lives are necessarily sacrificed in the national defense, but no imaginable justification exists to risk lives for political ambition, like Gov. Ron DeSantis in his floundering quest for the presidency.
He’s advocating not only an ultra-extreme, vaccine-shunning libertarianism in the face of COVID-19, but also policies that would leave the nation defenseless against the next inevitable pandemic. It’s all about getting to the right of former President Donald Trump on a subject that appeals to the know-nothing wing of their party.
DeSantis and his quack Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo descended into the depths of irresponsibility when they called on Floridians under 65 to refuse the new mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
The CDC, which is legally responsible for protecting the nation’s health, is recommending the vaccine to everyone over six months who has not received a shot in the previous two months.
The death toll
COVID-19 has killed more than 90,000 Floridians since early 2020. It is rising again, as expected. Though it does not appear now to be as lethal as earlier strains, people are still dying from it.
The toll would be much higher, but for the vaccines that were developed in record time by the scientists DeSantis scorns and were distributed swiftly by the former president who’s DeSantis’ major obstacle to the Republican presidential nomination.
As with other viruses such as those that cause the common cold and the flu, COVID-19 mutates rapidly, enabling it to reinfect people despite lingering immunity from previous infections or vaccinations. But unlike colds and flus, COVID can cause lasting, serious complications known as long COVID.
The new vaccine is seen as the first of what will become annual reformulated shots, much like flu vaccines. This iteration is designed for specific new Omicron sub-variants.
But thanks greatly to science-defying influencers like DeSantis, too few people can be bothered to protect themselves and those around them. Fewer than 20% were vaccinated last fall.
An alternative reality
On COVID vaccination, irresponsible leaders and conspiracy theorists have beguiled people into an alternative notion of reality reflecting their politics. Republicans are “far more likely,” according to a new Florida poll, to shun the vaccine and to believe dangerous nonsense about it. Some 84% of Florida Democrats are willing to receive boosters compared to only 53% of Republicans, the poll said.
According to the poll, conducted last month by Florida Atlantic University and the University of South Florida, one in four Floridians believe the vaccine alters DNA. Nearly as many believe it can cause infertility, and 14% believe the vaccine contains microchips. Slightly more than half of all respondents believe that COVID infection builds better immunity than the vaccine does; 42% believe the vaccine can cause infection and positive tests. The CDC says all of that is false.
Meanwhile, DeSantis has doubled down on his petulant attacks on the vaccine, on everyone who had a hand in it, and on his campaign promise — which should be taken as a threat — to hire Ladapo to run the CDC.
Ladapo’s Florida Department of Health last week officially cautioned people under 65 against following the CDC’s advice to receive the new vaccine. The document was riddled with inconsistencies, inaccuracies and unscientific assumptions.
Ladapo conceded that older people should at least discuss the new vaccine with their health care providers. But he couched even that minor miracle with speculative hokum. A government document that speaks of an “unknown risk of potential adverse impacts” (emphasis added) is hysterical propaganda, not science.
A history of distortion
Nothing that Ladapo puts out can be taken at face value because of how he distorted data last year to recommend that young men not get the then-current vaccines. The department withheld statistics showing that the risk of cardiac-related complications among that age group was much greater from contracting COVID than from being vaccinated against it.
Early in the pandemic, DeSantis did a lot right. He declared a state of emergency, urged people to be careful, advocated social distancing and eventually ordered lockdowns. As the first vaccines become available, he distributed them, although questions were raised about preferential treatment.
But DeSantis was hyper-sensitive to pressure from the public, from the business community and from parents of schoolchildren to get back to life as usual despite the new danger. He saw a political opportunity.
DeSantis segued swiftly into not only reopening schools and businesses in his tourist dependent-state. He prodded the Legislature to ban masking and vaccination requirements not only among government agencies but also in private enterprise. He found an outlier physician, a vaccine skeptic who would act on his anti-scientific agenda. Although Ladapo is a well-credentialed cardiac expert, he had no experience in epidemiology, the essential discipline of public health.
Ridiculing Dr. Fauci
DeSantis began ridiculing Dr. Anthony Fauci, a hero in the fight against COVID-19. In his campaign for president, DeSantis has been denouncing the very best thing Trump did with the powers that he had: the swift, damn-the-expense distribution of the vaccines that controlled COVID-19 and saved countless lives.
DeSantis’ demonization of a public health triumph extended even to getting a compliant Florida Supreme Court to authorize a statewide grand jury investigation of COVID-19 vaccines and the companies responsible for them. Nothing has been heard from it so far. The concocted subject is far beyond Florida’s legitimate reach.
Now DeSantis accuses the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC of using “healthy Floridians as guinea pigs for new booster shots.” So says the man who’s sacrificing them to his incandescent political ambition.