Legal Updates

GAY MARRIAGE APPEAL  Attorney General Pam Bondi formally appealed several recent court decisions in Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties that ruled Florida’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. In 2008, Florida voters approved an amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage, which is her basis for the appeals. Bondi has asked judges to delay their rulings on similar cases until a definitive decision is reached by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The U.S. Supreme Court has not included any of the seven pending cases currently before their court for this Fall’s term. However, a case may be added later in the year.

WRITE-IN RESIDENCY LAW UNCONSTITUTIONAL In 1998, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment opening primaries to all voters should all candidates be from one party.  Two years later, then Secretary of State Katherine Harris determined that write-in candidates would void this provision.  Since then both political parties have used this tactic to keep primaries closed to the other party. Two recent court cases seeking the constitutionality of write-in candidates’ non-district residency have brought attention to the situation.  Unfortunately, the two cases produced opposite rulings and both cases have been appealed to a higher court.

SCHOOL VOUCHER SYSTEM LAWSUIT Backed by the Florida Education Association, a teacher filed a lawsuit challenging the expansion of the Tax Credit Scholarship Program enacted by the Legislature this year. A Leon County judge threw out the case, ruling that the teacher had no standing to file such a court challenge. Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando) as well as the Save our Scholarship Coalition asked the Association to permanently drop the case. This ruling does not affect a separate, broader challenge to the lawsuit which was filed last month by the Association.

REDISTRICTING  While the court battle over the U.S. congressional districts drawn by the Legislature has been settled pending any further appeals, the fight continues in a little reported lawsuit involving the Florida Senate districts.  The Legislature contends that the Florida Supreme Court had approved the new maps in 2012, as required by the Constitution.  However, the Court voted 5-2 that the suit could proceed because the 2012 review was cursory in nature and did not reflect a thorough legal review.  The 1st District Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to advance the case directly to the Florida Supreme Court to settle the question.  A ruling for the plaintiffs might require the redrawing of all forty districts.

GREAT CYPRESS SWAMP In April, Collier County  brought suit against a Texas oil prospector who was drilling in the Great Cypress Swamp watershed.  The suit came after the company broke state law with an unauthorized drilling technique.  Since then, the Department of Environmental Protection filed its own suit prompting the County to drop their case.  The County reserves the right to join the State should they choose.  The Texas company is no longer operating in Florida, with the exception of this single Cypress Swamp test well.

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