Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel. June 1, 2021.

Editorial: Diversity finds another enemy: The Florida Supreme Court

In a coordinated effort to cater to the prejudiced elements of their voter base, Republican politicians in Florida and across the nation are striving to bar schools from teaching how racism has influenced our nation. Now, that attitude of denial appears to have penetrated even the Florida Supreme Court.

In a surprise order issued April 15, the court overturned a significant advancement in diversity in continuing legal education, required classes known as CLE among lawyers. The decree, adopted 6-1, makes Florida’s attorneys the only ones in the nation who will be unable to earn continuing legal education credit for courses taught under the American Bar Association. The court made its decision because the association requires diversity in the membership of the panels teaching its courses.

Since 1988, lawyers in Florida have been required to complete 33 hours of continuing legal education every three years. The courses keep lawyers up-to-date on changes in the legal system, technology and even standards of basic professionalism. Courses offered by the American Bar Association are considered the gold standard — or at least they were.

Just as when it spent much of the 1940s and ’50s refusing to admit a Black applicant to the University of Florida Law School despite U.S. Supreme Court orders in his favor, the Florida Supreme Court is once again an outlier, reflecting rigidly right-wing appointments by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

This time, it comes in the guise of equality.

“Quotas based on characteristics like the ones in (the ABA’s diversity) policy are antithetical to basic American principles of nondiscrimination,” wrote the majority.

“Quotas” is one of those buzz words that alarm many people, but this policy shouldn’t. It doesn’t preclude anyone from teaching courses by virtue of race or background. It simply calls for including more people.

“No one can legitimately complain that they have been injured concretely by the disputed CLE diversity policy,” noted the Carlton Fields law firm in a rebuttal. “That is because the purpose and effect … is to include underrepresented persons more broadly in CLE programming and thus to expand the pool of talent participating in these important endeavors.”

The Florida court has no jurisdiction over the American Bar Association, which claims 400,000 voluntary members nationwide. But it does control the Florida Bar, the official agency for regulating and licensing all Florida lawyers, for whom membership is mandatory.

Now, the Florida Bar is forbidden to grant course approval for any program “submitted by a sponsor that uses quotas based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, disability or sexual orientation in the selection of course faculty or participants.”

The court’s order is aimed at a four-year-old ABA policy requiring at least a degree of diversity among course panelists and moderators. Depending on the number of panelists, there must be from one to three “diverse” members. Diversity is defined as racial, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and multiculturalism.

Those parameters are so broad that a panel could still be all-white. So is the Florida Supreme Court itself, although two justices are Hispanic. Still, the ABA policy is a good-faith attempt to encourage diversity.

The six-justice majority cited two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that allowed race-conscious university admissions policies, except that specific quotas “must be rejected.” That was a curiously long stretch for a pretext, as the Carlton Fields filing brought out. A significant difference is that universities limit admission, but there is no ceiling on ABA panels.

No one has complained to the court of being turned down for an ABA panel on account of being white. In the apparent absence of any complaint, the court acted “on its own motion,” and without seeking comment and argument from anyone else. Acknowledging that highly unusual circumstance, the court said it would receive formal comments until June 29 and held open the possibility of hearing oral arguments.

Carlton Fields filed the first objection. The ABA is expected to follow suit.

With the case now pending, the court’s public information officer, Craig Waters, said no justice could comment on what put them up to it.

But a public records request did yield a possible clue.

In February, Ed Whelan, a controversial conservative legal critic, wrote a National Review article criticizing the Business Law Section of the Florida Bar for adopting a policy modeled on the ABA diversity standard. Because all Florida lawyers must belong to the Bar, Whelan said, “they are required to be members of an organization that has an overt policy of discrimination.” He suggested that the Florida Supreme Court should make membership optional.

The Florida Bar president, Dori Foster-Morales, sent a rebuttal to the magazine and a copy to Chief Justice Charles Canady.

That may have been the trigger.

The April 15 order has set off an angry buzz among Florida lawyers.

“I fear we can only read it as forewarning of extremist overreaching by the court, dramatically unrepresentative of Florida’s citizenry and decades of public policy,” wrote Dan Hendrickson, a lawyer in Tallahassee, in an email to others.

“This is absurd and only affects and hurts Florida lawyers like myself,” Tampa lawyer Sandy Weinberg wrote in an email to the Sun Sentinel. He implied that it may lead to the ABA boycotting Florida for future meetings, such as an annual program on white-collar crime that typically attracts 1,200 to 1,500 members, and for which Miami “is our favorite and most popular location.” A former chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section, Weinberg said he will still moderate the next panel at Miami in October but “as of now get no CLE credit.”

Justice Jorge Labarga was the sole dissenter, remarking briefly that he didn’t think the rule was necessary, that a simple letter warning the Business Law Section about U.S. Supreme Court precedents would have sufficed.

Labarga, the court’s only remaining moderate, has dissented consistently since the new majority began repealing progressive precedents it didn’t like.

Justice Alan Lawson, a Rick Scott appointee, wrote separately to compliment the Business Law Section’s “well-intended motivation” but he concurred with the majority. They were Canady and Justices Ricky Polston, who like Labarga were appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist; and Carlos Muñiz, John D. Couriel and Jamie R. Grosshans, the DeSantis appointees who enabled Canady to turn the court far to the right.

The diversity ruling is another consequence of the 2001 Legislature’s decision to give governors total control of the commissions that nominate judges. Florida lawyers have been mostly silent about that, to the state’s detriment, and now theirs.

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Tampa Bay Times. May 29, 2021.

Editorial: Florida’s already stingy unemployment benefits take another unneeded hit

In a decision that should surprise no one, Florida recently joined more than 20 other states in declaring that it would stop paying unemployed workers an extra $300 a week in federal pandemic benefits.

The move would seem less heartless if the state wasn’t already so chintzy with its unemployment payments. Instead, out-of-work Floridians will have to get by on no more than $275 a week, among the lowest state benefits in the nation.

In announcing the decision, Gov. Ron DeSantis fell back on the worn-out sound bite that paying people not to work was contributing to a labor shortage. Businesses are crying out for workers, but the extra $300 a week discourages people from rejoining the labor force, he said. Like so many convenient political chestnuts, that one contains a nugget of truth, but misses most of the economic nuance.

First, not everyone who is out of work gets benefits. In fact, Florida is really good at finding reasons not to pay. Only about 11% of unemployed workers in the state received benefits in 2019, second-lowest behind only North Carolina, according to Labor Department data. Second, no one in Florida is getting rich collecting unemployment insurance. The maximum of $575 a week — up to $275 from Florida and $300 from the temporary federal program — equates to a little more than $14 an hour.

Not bad, but not everyone gets the maximum, and the benefits don’t last forever, with Florida currently paying a maximum of 19 weeks. Plus, the benefits go directly to people in need, unlike some of the ill-conceived federal stimulus programs that doled out money to too many people whose finances weren’t adversely affected by the pandemic.

Also lost in the political rhetoric: Some of the people on unemployment made a lot more than $14 an hour before getting laid off, sometimes double or triple that amount. It’s illogical to think that $14 an hour will entice that group to lay-about their homes instead of taking jobs that pay the much higher amounts they earned before. Opponents of the extra $300 a week conveniently ignore that flip side to their argument about financial incentives.

Don’t forget that Florida has yet to vanquish the dangerous coronavirus. While the vaccines have helped, COVID-19 is still sickening and killing people — more than 37,000 Floridians have died — which has scared some front-line workers away from rejoining the job market. The pandemic has also put a premium on child and elder care, which has made it hard for some people, especially women, to return to work.

Another curious feature of the current “labor shortage”: Wages have not risen rapidly, which is often what happens when workers are hard to find across many industries.

“What’s being called a labor shortage is still a health shortage, a wage shortage and a care shortage,” Aaron Sojourner, a labor economist and an associate professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times’ DealBook.

Yes, unemployment benefits can influence how quickly people get back to work or how intensely they look for jobs. The effects, though, are often minimal, especially in a state like Florida that pays so little in benefits.

Economists often spar over the numbers, but a Congressional Research Service report released earlier this month found that increased benefits from April to July of last year reduced employment by 0.2% to 0.4%, but the benefits increased spending by 2% to 2.6%.

A study from the University of Chicago and JPMorgan Chase found similar spending increases, while concluding that the negative effects on people searching for jobs “were small.” Those spending increases can help insulate the job market from more damage. In other words, the extra benefits allow unemployed workers to spend more during an economic crisis, and the extra spending keeps other people employed.

What will happen when Florida gives up the extra $300 a week? It’s too soon to know, but spending could take a hit, at least in the short term. A drop in spending could end up being more of a drag on the job market than keeping the benefits in place. One thing for certain, ending the extra $300 weekly payments won’t magically fill all the available jobs. Florida has more than 460,000 job openings, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity, but fewer than 150,000 people are receiving unemployment benefits.

The labor market is complex, and the effects of unemployment benefits are hard to boil down to soundbites, whether it’s conservatives complaining about “paying people not to work” or liberals overly simplifying the issue by shaming businesses with a mantra of “just pay workers more.”

Either bromide might feel good depending on your political leanings, but they do little to explain what’s really happening.

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Miami Herald. June 1, 2021.

Editorial: Coincidence? Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs anti-transgender bill on first day of Pride Month

Perhaps it was just a big, unfortunate coincidence.

But it feels more like an insult that Gov. Ron DeSantis chose June 1, the first day of LGBTQ Pride Month, to sign Florida’s biggest anti-LGBT bill in recent history banning transgender women and girls from playing sports.

Perhaps the irony was lost on him that Pride Month celebrates the Stonewall Riots that ushered in the LGBTQ rights movement. Perhaps DeSantis doesn’t care to know about that history, or purposely chose June 1 so he could generate controversy that helps him with the GOP’s conservative base.

It could have been even worse. The deadline for DeSantis to sign the bill is June 12, the five-year anniversary of the Pulse shooting that left 49 people dead at a gay nightclub.

When asked whether the timing of the bill signing was meant to send a message, DeSantis said, “It’s not a message to anything other than saying we’re going to protect fairness and women’s sports,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Regardless, it’s hard to ignore that June 1 is the day DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1028 into law during an event at — of all places — a Christian school in Jacksonville.

The message had already been sent by the Republican-controlled Legislature when it treated banning transgender girls from sports as a priority during a global pandemic. After the bill sponsor said the measure was probably dead, it was attached at the last minute to another bill dealing with charter schools and passed along party lines.

Apparently, that’s how much lawmakers thought transgender athletes are a problem.

The reality is that, since 2015, only 11 trans kids have gone through the process to play sports set up by the Florida High School Athletic Association. Of those 11 students, only two played women’s sports. One of them was on a bowling team, and it’s unknown what sport the other played.

That means the Legislature went to great lengths to pass a bill that would have affected two athletes (maybe a couple more at the college level) over a span of six years. This bill dealt with an issue for which the FHSAA and the NCAA already had policies and processes in place.

Here’s how lawmakers could have had real impact: by passing a bill to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination in employment, housing and public spaces. Despite being introduced year after year and having bipartisan support, that measure has never advanced far enough in Tallahassee.

But Republicans’ true intent isn’t to fix an issue. No, this is about something else: giving DeSantis one more issue to brag about on Fox News as he sets himself up as the next Donald Trump ahead of the 2024 presidential primaries.

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Orlando Sentinel. May 27, 2021.

Editorial: Time to give up on Marco Rubio, who will never do the right thing if there’s any risk

So Marco Rubio declared on Twitter he’s a no vote on creating a commission to get to the bottom of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

That’s the least surprising news since Rubio voted against convicting Donald Trump after the former president encouraged the insurrection, the clearest case for impeachment and removal of a president in U.S. history.

We always hold out hope Rubio will do the right thing and he almost always disappoints. Well, he did join 92 other U.S. senators in voting not to throw out the votes of nearly 7 million Pennsylvanians in the 2020 presidential election, which is more than Rick Scott can say.

That’s where we are today: A U.S. senator from Florida gets credit for not tossing out an entire state’s vote for president because Trump and the pillow guy didn’t like the outcome and promoted insane election conspiracy theories.

Earlier this week, the Miami Herald’s editorial board gamely encouraged Rubio to change his mind and support the bipartisan proposal to create a bipartisan panel to dig into the most serious domestic threat to the republic since the Civil War.

Why do we need a commission? Consider these words:

“We need to learn as much as we can: A, because it was a shameful day — something that should never happen again — and B, because I think our enemies of this country, terrorists and others, will look to learn from that day, potentially, one day take lessons learned from it to attack us here.” That’s not from the Herald’s editorial. That’s what Rubio himself said less than two weeks ago.

Sorry to say it, but Marco Rubio is beyond hope.

Before the insurrection, we, too, took a few stabs at encouraging Rubio to do the right thing.

After Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death just weeks before last year’s election, we asked Rubio to stand by the Merrick Garland doctrine he and the GOP embraced in 2016 — that replacing a Supreme Court justice in a presidential election year should be left to the election’s winner.

No dice.

We asked him to go ahead and support Trump’s policies if he must but to take a stand in opposition to Trump’s worst, most grotesque impulses.

Nuh-uh.

What’s the point of appealing to someone who swore off another Senate run when he ran for president in 2016, then turned around and ran for the Senate? Someone who negotiated a bipartisan immigration reform bill and then campaigned against it?

We’ve been waiting a decade for Rubio to do the right thing. But the senator is Lucy with the football, and every Floridian who trusts him is Charlie Brown.

Rubio had us halfway believing he wouldn’t yank the ball away again when he offered the justification we quoted earlier, telling The Dispatch, a conservative online magazine, that he was open to a special, 9/11-style commission to investigate the insurrection.

“My general feeling is that if we can have a serious examination of the events leading up to, occurring, and in the aftermath of that day, we should do it,” Rubio said. He went on to say the commission didn’t need to delve into last summer’s racial unrest, as other Republicans had suggested.

That was May 18. On May 19 the House voted in favor of the commission, with 35 Republicans (two from Florida) joining the Democrats.

Just two days later, Rubio tweeted out a video deriding the bipartisan proposal as “a partisan joke.”

His primary objection centered on the proposed commission’s ability to subpoena testimony under oath. Even though subpoenas would require approval from both Republicans and Democrats on the proposed commission, Rubio is convinced that commission Dems will attempt to use the subpoena power just to embarrass the GOP. And if Republicans vetoed a subpoena, according to Rubio’s reasoning, the media would embarrass the Republicans by reporting that news.

Rubio is satisfied that we’ll learn everything we need to learn through congressional hearings and Department of Justice prosecutions.

Except, we all know it’ll be easier to dismiss congressional findings as partisan witch hunts, and that individual DOJ prosecutions are unlikely to paint a bigger picture about what went wrong and why.

In the history of this nation we’ve never seen the likes of what happened on Jan. 6. And yet, somehow, that doesn’t merit an extraordinary inquiry into why and how it happened so that, as Rubio recently put it, such a thing would “never happen again.”

Rubio’s stated reasons are phony. He’s afraid an honest inquiry would make his party look worse than it already does ahead of the midterm elections.

Even more terrifying to him is the prospect of getting primaried if he stands up to the party. Just look at all the Trump family members flocking to Florida. Any one of them could step right in and probably squash Rubio like a bug if he gets out of line.

It’s time to surrender any hope that Rubio will ever do the right thing if there’s any risk involved.

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Palm Beach Post. May 30, 2021.

Editorial: DeSantis battles social-media giants for show

By signing Florida’s new Big Tech law, Gov. Ron DeSantis has stood up for the dubious freedom of politicians to spread as many lies as they please, no matter how dangerous. So what if the statute is unconstitutional?

The treasured First Amendment of the Constitution says the government can’t infringe on freedom of the press or freedom of speech. There’s no exception for Facebook, Twitter and the misinformation that swamps social media. They get the same protections as a speaker at a political rally, a book publisher, a newspaper or a cable news channel.

And so, the “oligarchs of social media,” as DeSantis calls Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and other titans of these powerful private enterprises — the sort of entrepreneurial big-business figures whom conservatives once lionized — have a perfect right to “de-platform” people whose ideas they find false or dangerous.

That’s our system. If it’s government censorship you’d like, try China.

The new law imposes fines of $250,000 a day on tech giants for removing statewide political candidates from their platforms. The fine would be $25,000 a day for exiling a non-statewide candidate.

Individual users muzzled by the companies can sue them, under the new law DeSantis signed in Miami on Monday. Users must be notified when their postings are censored or tagged with a warning of false or disputed information.

Curiously, there’s an exemption for companies owning theme parks like Walt Disney Co., which owns the Disney+ streaming service. The owners of Florida’s largest tourist attraction apparently get to de-platform as many politicians as they like. This distinction alone — giving one streaming service a right denied to others — should be enough for courts to send this law to oblivion, but not before Florida taxpayers are stuck with whopping legal bills.

There’s no mystery what’s behind this. DeSantis and most other Republican leaders are upset that former President Donald Trump has been booted from his favorite soapboxes. Now, his special blend of grievances, insults, whines, threats, distortions and egomania is confined to a blog with many millions of fewer followers. To the easing of America’s collective blood pressure.

Let us remember that before Twitter and Facebook exiled him, Trump used those platforms to unload most of the 30,573 documented lies he disgorged in his four years as president. It wasn’t until after that mob overran the Capitol on Jan. 6, after Trump’s repeated lying that he’d won the November election, an election he insisted was rippled with imaginary fraud, that Twitter and Facebook shut him up.

As Jan. 6 frighteningly demonstrated, Trump’s language had become a tripwire for violence. That danger is still there as the Big Lie about the election keeps spreading. As recently as Wednesday, a federal judge said that Trump’s “steady drumbeat that inspired defendant to take up arms has not faded away,” referring to alleged Capitol rioter Cleveland Meredith, Jr.

DeSantis, ever the Trump imitator, is also peeved that YouTube temporarily yanked a video featuring him and COVID-19 quack Scott Atlas because they were advancing information likely to harm public health.

As veteran Tallahassee reporter Bill Cotterell notes, Florida has a legal precedent that should have stopped DeSantis, a lawyer, from this cyber-censorship. Almost 50 years ago, this state had a “right to reply” law requiring newspapers to print rebuttal essays from candidates they did not endorse on their editorial pages. The Miami Herald refused to run a rebuttal submitted by a spurned legislative candidate. He sued, and the Supreme Court threw out the 1913 statute.

The ruling means the press cannot be forced to publish something, any more than it can be forbidden to publish something.

DeSantis also might have heeded the principles of conservatism that his party holds dear — or used to.

“Principled conservatives believe they can win in the marketplace of ideas, but they also recognize marketplaces sometimes have to ask unruly patrons to leave,” says Bret Jacobson, co-founder of Red Edge, a leading digital advocacy agency for conservative and center-right causes. He opposes the Florida law.

“DeSantis is basically demanding that the loudest and craziest patrons be allowed to run roughshod over everyone else.”

None of this matters if your obsession as governor is to use the office as a springboard to the presidency in 2024 by endearing yourself to as many Trumpist voters as possible.

Whether this law sends shudders through Silicon Valley or ends up on the judicial junk heap is practically an afterthought. DeSantis has sent a strong signal to MAGA world that he’s their champion. And in his universe, that’s what counts.

END