The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Florida Constitutional Law in a Nutshell

by Robert M. Jarvis Book Reviews

Book cover of Florida Constitutional Law in a NutshellAt 695 pages, Professor Robert M. Jarvis’s excellent Florida Constitutional Law in a Nutshell could be considered the coco de mer of the Nutshells series. Yet it is an interesting, even a beguiling, read. It is organized logically into six major parts. In “Basics,” Jarvis covers a brief history of early and tribal constitutions to the Florida bar exam’s history, including Florida constitutional law essay questions.

It may seem odd at first glance that “Individual Rights” would merit a major part of this book — until you read that section and realize how many individual rights our state constitution preserves. Floridians have an explicit right to privacy, the subject of many fights over exactly what remains private. Our data? Our right to visit our grandchild, even against the parents’ will? Additionally, our constitution preserves varying rights to homestead, guns, marijuana, open records and meetings — the list is long. Floridians’ individual rights are important. As Chesterfield Smith, chair of the commission that drafted this constitution in 1966, said, “I consider the crowning achievement of our Constitution to be its Declaration of Rights….Government structure is important, but in finality, not near so important as human rights.”

Government structure is important, and Jarvis appropriately makes state and local government structure two of the major sections of the book. Within the “Local Government” section, he has tucked a discussion of Florida’s education systems, from pre-K-12 through higher education. He provides a historical section and also deals with the knotty controversies surrounding vouchers and charter schools.

A marvel of this book is that Jarvis retains a firm hold on the big picture while attending to details so fascinating in their particulars that a reader will barely notice how exhaustive in number they are. The author also helpfully provides Web addresses to further study many subjects. Jarvis’ depth and breadth of knowledge of Florida constitutional law is evident on every page. Readers will appreciate the little stories he sprinkles throughout the book to provide context for current issues. The historical background of the privacy provision, for example, sheds light on why it was added when it was.

Jarvis’ clear prose may be most welcome in his section on government finances. What many would consider a daunting, and probably boring, subject Jarvis explains clearly and succinctly. He not only covers the necessary details but also provides interesting anecdotes (for example, Derek Jeter living in Trump Tower in Manhattan trying to claim Florida homestead). Finally, Jarvis thoroughly describes Florida’s many methods of amending its constitution, noting that no state provides more ways to amend its constitution.

Nearly any part of Florida Constitutional Law in a Nutshell could act as a convenient primer for a student or practitioner who wants to learn about an aspect of Florida’s constitution. What the reader will soon discover is that he or she has opened a door into what makes Florida tick.

Mary E. Adkins of Gainesville is a member of The Florida Bar.