People with divergent views need to support the courts as an invaluable institution
At a time when there is “intense public interest” in the work of the nation’s courts, it is vital that organizations like the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society continue to bring people with different perspectives together to pursue the common goal of making sure people understand the importance of a strong, independent judiciary in our governmental balance of power.
That is the message Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz brought to those attending the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society’s Annual Dinner January 27 in Tallahassee.
“Of course, in a free and pluralistic society like ours it is inevitable there will be diverging and deeply held views about what is true and just and good,” Muñiz said. “The courts cannot and should not be immune from those debates.”
But at the same time, the chief justice said, the nation has recently witnessed behaviors that no reasonable person, and certainly no one who loves the courts as an institution, can approve of.
“The leaking of drafts of a court opinion, picketing justices’ homes, death threats, things like that are completely unacceptable,” he said.
As a sign of the times, Muñiz noted U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts devoted the opening of his annual end of the year report to the physical security of federal judges and “harkened back” to the challenging times of the civil rights era when judges’ physical safety was of utmost concern, and drew parallels to what is happening in some quarters today.
In the report, Chief Justice Roberts wrote about the importance of the rule of law instead of by mob: “The law requires every judge to swear an oath to perform his or her work without fear or favor, but we must support judges by ensuring their safety. A judicial system cannot and should not live in fear.”
“That says a lot that the chief justice would think that was the most important thing for him to write about,” said Chief Justice Muñiz.
While the majority of the nation’s focus is understandably on the U.S. Supreme Court, “we would be naive to think the overall environment in which the courts are operating now won’t affect the people’s view of courts generally, including our court and . . . state courts in general.”
That, Muñiz said, is why it is so important to support organizations like the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society and groups like it now more than ever.
“Obviously, our views are not monolithic,” Chief Justice Muñiz said, looking out into an audience of bar leaders and jurists from across the state. “I know there are different viewpoints in this room about legal issues, judicial philosophy, that sort of thing; and I’m sure there are all kinds of opinions about the work our court is doing.”
What is most important, he said, is for the public to see that people with divergent and deeply held views are still able to come together and support the courts as institutions that stand for ordered liberty, the rule of law, and the American system of government, “which for all its imperfections is still the best mankind has been able to come up with.”
Chief Justice Muñiz urged the assembly to stay focused on the big picture so that 50 or 100 years from now, the people of Florida can inherit the blessing of the “strong and as vibrant” judiciary that we have now.