The Associated Press September 1, 2010, 8:10AM ET

Fla. justices nix health care amendment

A measure intended to let voters voice opposition to the U.S. health care overhaul was kicked off Florida's Nov. 2 ballot Thursday by the state Supreme Court, along with two other proposed state constitutional amendments.

The other two stricken amendments would have strengthened the Legislature's hand in redistricting and given home buyers an extra property tax exemption if they hadn't owned a house for at least eight years.

The justices, by 5-2 votes in each case, affirmed lower court rulings that the amendments had misleading or unclear ballot summaries or texts. Each had been proposed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The health care proposal, Amendment 9, would have prohibited government requirements to buy insurance and penalties for failing to comply, key features of President Barack Obama's health care plan.

Republican sponsors conceded the measure could not override the federal law, but they saw it as a way for Floridians to voice their opposition to it. Missouri voters approved a similar proposal by a wide margin during an Aug. 3 primary election.

The high court also handed the Legislature and two members of Congress another defeat by rejecting their challenge to a pair of citizen initiatives on redistricting that will, as a result, remain on the ballot.

Those proposals, Amendments 5 and 6, are designed to prevent gerrymandering that benefits incumbents and political parties when lawmakers reapportion congressional and state legislative districts.

The Legislature had proposed Amendment 7 -- giving state lawmakers wide discretion in creating new political boundaries -- in response to the initiatives. Republican lawmakers argued they were just trying to clarify the initiatives. The bipartisan group FairDistrictsFlorida.org had conducted petition drives to get the measures on the ballot and contended the Legislature's proposal would have gutted the anti-gerrymandering provisions.

"It is a sad day when more than 60 percent of the elected representatives of the people of the state of Florida can't get ballot measures approved by the court, but special interest groups can," said incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. "I will abide by the court's decision. However, I wish the justices had allowed these matters to be decided by Florida voters."

Amendment 7 passed the House and Senate on largely partisan votes with most Democrats and a few moderate Republicans in opposition. House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands of Weston hailed the redistricting rulings.

"The Florida Supreme Court today checked the arrogant abuse of power by Republican legislative leaders by ensuring that voters will have a reasonable opportunity to improve our state's redistricting process," Sands said in a statement.

U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, had challenged Amendment 6, which sets standards for congressional redistricting.

"I wholeheartedly believe that Amendment 6 is merely a subtle attempt to dilute minority representation," Brown said. "This Amendment is nothing more than a deceitful attempt to turn the clock back to the days before 1992, when Florida didn't have any African-American representation in Congress."

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, though, disagreed. The NAACP Florida Conference led the challenge to the Legislature's Amendment 7.

On Amendment 9, Assistant Attorney General Russell S. Kent had conceded in oral argument Aug. 18 that the ballot summary was misleading because it claimed the measure would "ensure access to health care services without waiting lists, protect the doctor/patient relationship, guard against mandates that don't work." The text of the amendment doesn't address those factors.

Kent, instead, urged the justices to replace the summary with the text. He noted that's what they did in 2004 with an amendment, which voters adopted, requiring parental notification before a minor can obtain an abortion.

The majority Tuesday receded from that decision, writing it conflicted with prior rulings and that the high court never issued an opinion explaining the abortion decision, which means it cannot serve as a precedent.

"Our role in this process is as a reviewer of constitutional validity, not as an editor or author," the justices wrote in an unsigned opinion.

The high court's strongest conservatives, Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Ricky Polston, dissented in all three ballot-removal cases.

Canady, though, was part of a four-justice majority that ruled in favor of the citizen initiatives. Polston wrote a partial dissent. Justices Barbara Pariente and James Perry did not participate in that case.


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