Florida: Court collision pushing Pinellas Term Limits case toward Supreme Court
The April 16 decision by the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeals excusing Pinellas County from enforcing its voter-approved 8-year county commission term limits law collided head on with a 2011 decision from the 4th DCA which required that they be enforced. Indeed, after the Florida Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the 4th DCA decision, every county in Florida is enforcing their county term limits except Pinellas.
Why is Pinellas so special? In its April 16 decision, the 2nd DCA did not answer that question. In fact, its only response was: “Affirmed.” No explanation was given at all!
That won’t do. It is pretty clear this case must be settled in the Florida Supreme Court as the conflict between the two decisions are so stark. Must counties enforce their voter-approved charter amendments or not?
It is an important question that affects all 20 of Florida’s charter — or ‘home rule’ — counties, not just the 12 whose voters have opted to impose term limits on their county politicians.
On this basis, the Pinellas citizens who have been defending the Pinellas term limits law in court have filed for a rehearing, requesting the court revisit its decision or at least provide an explanation that they can bring to the Supreme Court.
It is difficult to see what the defense the county politicians have. The case set out in the good guys’ Motion for Clarification appears incontrovertible:
- Voters overwhelmingly approved 8-year term limits on county commissioners and constitutional officers in 1996.
- In Cook (2002), the Florida Supreme Court (in a split decision) struck down the term limits on constitutional officers, but did not address county commission term limits.
- The Pinellas charter’s severability clause (7.01) clearly provides that if one section of the charter is found unconstitutional, others survive.
- As an example of this under Florida law, Florida voters approved in 1992 term limits on both federal Congress members and state legislators. When the U.S. Supreme Court shot down Congressional term limits in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995), the Congressional term limits were nullified but — per Florida’s Ray v. Mortham (1999) — the state legislative term limits still stand.
- In 2011-12, the 4th DCA and then the Florida Supreme Court both unanimously affirmed the constitutionality of county commission term limits and also reversed their earlier decision regarding constitutional officer term limits as well.
- All Florida county term limits on the books today have been ruled constitutional and are being enforced, except in Pinellas County. There is no reason why Pinellas should be treated differently.
Due to the conflict between the DCAs, appellants Maria Scruggs and H. Patrick Wheeler argue the 2nd DCA owes the public — and the Supremes — an explanation. If we get one, it will be due to the hard work and personal sacrifice of these two individuals.