Bar to educate and involve lawyers and the public in the constitution revision process
“Protecting Florida Democracy: Our Constitution, Our Rights, Our Courts” is the theme of the Bar’s initiative to educate and involve Florida’s lawyers and citizens about the ongoing Constitution Revision Commission process.
Board of Governors member Sandy Diamond, chair of the Bar’s Special Committee on the 2017 Constitution Revision, said the program will also include creating a website with information, using social media, and speakers. She addressed the board at its May 26 meeting.
“The whole purpose of our campaign is to raise public awareness about the CRC process, to educate the public and the voters on the importance of the Florida Constitution, the separation of powers, checks and balances, and to protect against revisions to the constitution which would undermine the judicial branch,” she said.
The committee is working with a Tallahassee communications firm to develop the program. Initial research shows that only 10 percent of Florida voters know anything about the CRC and only 64 percent of Bar members know what the CRC does, Diamond said.
“We have to create a sense of urgency in our messaging and educate the public about how the judiciary works,” she said. “The Florida Constitution is being opened for a once-in-20-years review. It is critical for every Florida resident because the constitution outlines the rights of Floridians and the responsibilities of our state government. We want the members of the public to understand that in order to preserve the separation of powers and to ensure a fair and impartial judiciary.”
The Bar also wants residents to understand the constitution is a limited document and should be revised with great caution, Diamond said.
With those goals in mind, the committee, with help from the Young Lawyers Division and the Bar’s Citizens Advisory Committee, created the theme about protecting Florida democracy. It will be promulgated using a special website, protectfldemocracy.org, which will feature educational materials. The Bar will use quotations from historical and contemporary figures, Diamond said, including Alexander Hamilton, Thurgood Marshall, Susan B. Anthony, and Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch, who has said, “Ours is supposed to be an independent judiciary making decisions on the legal merits without respect to the vagaries of shifting political views.”
The Bar will also use social media, videos, soundbites from Bar and community leaders, and a speakers bureau to spread the message. Bar leaders will also visit media editorial boards. Based on the successful The Vote’s In Your Court education campaign about merit selection and retention for appellate judges in 2012, Diamond said the Bar will use digital advertising to encourage voters to visit the website and follow social media. That 2012 campaign yielded 39.6 million online “impressions,” resulting in 122,520 visits to the related website.
The target for the CRC effort, she said, is 40 million impressions, 140,000 hits to the website, and 16,000 followers of the related social media campaign.
Diamond said the campaign has established a timeline with measurable goals. The website will be up this summer, and there will be a formal press conference to kick off the campaign in the fall.
“This campaign is an important step for our Bar and our members to show that we can step up when the time is right to provide a service to our members and the public,” she said.