- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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April 3


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Miami Herald says Martin Luther King Jr.’s spirit lives on in a new generation of activists:

They are following in Martin’s footsteps.



Not just because they have marched, but also because of their devotion to a cause that’s bigger than they are; their willingness to live their commitments - and look past the haters.

The young people of the newest gun-control movement are simply the latest iteration of King’s legacy of nonviolent protest, inspiring followers and rattling the powers that be.

April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, suddenly is not just a day on which the man is commemorated.

Rather, it is a call to action. And in recent weeks and months, in our own backyard, we’ve seen that many haven’t had to wait for a specific date to get involved. In the past year, we’ve seen citizens put their commitment to what they see as a better America on display, and their credibility, reputations - and security - on the line. The women’s marches, Colin Kaepernick, fearful immigrants.

Most recently, students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have taken the trauma of the Feb. 14 shooting and distilled from their grief and anger the message: #NeverAgain. They have taken their fight against assault weapons in civilians’ hands to the streets and the halls of power.

Two of those student leaders, Kai Koerber and Tyah Roberts, both 17, juniors and #MSDStrong, are the faces of such commitment. They talked to the Editorial Board on Tuesday about what they’ve learned from King. “We need to be peaceful and resilient in our message and showcase the struggle that’s really happening,” said Roberts, who in addition to pushing for gun control, also wants African-American students at Stoneman Douglas to be safe in the face of massive police presence. “But we need to make sure that we are doing it in a way that is ethical and a way that is right and that will really effect change.”

Ultimately, #NeverAgain must reach the voting booth. That’s just what King set in motion to ensure that African Americans achieved what was promised them in the Bill of Rights.

And like King, who faced down fire hoses, a stabbing, FBI surveillance and hostility from frightened whites and impatient blacks, students will have to work through the vitriol against them on social media, the lies and the mockery - largely from adults.

Again, like King, Roberts and Koerber know that their cause won’t end with them: “The things we do from now to the end of our lives,” Koerber said, “is not our final resolve.”

Online: http://www.miamiherald.com

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March 28

Sun Sentinel on Gov. Rick Scott and voting rights restoration for ex-felons:

The courts are the least powerful branch of government in America’s system of checks and balances, but they are the most important. Without an independent judiciary, there would be nothing to make arrogant governors, presidents and lawmakers respect the Constitution and the rights of the people. Now, the politicians are striking back - in Florida and across the nation - and it is no stretch to say that democracy hangs in the balance.

An example comes in the thrashing a federal judge gave Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet this week over denying voting rights to former felons who have long since paid their debts to society.

“We can do whatever we want,” Scott had boasted to his three Cabinet colleagues in voter suppression.

The stunningly brazen quotation appears on page two of U.S. District Judge Mark Walker’s 43-page order overturning the Cabinet’s practice of stalling all but a tiny handful of people who would like their voting rights restored after having served felony sentences.

Some 1.5-million people are languishing in Florida’s civic Siberia. Scott and the Cabinet have restored voting rights to fewer than 3,000 in seven years. The average wait is 14 years and the outcomes appear to depend on Scott’s whims. A voter initiative that would make restoration automatic - except for murder and sexual felonies - has made the November ballot. To pass, 60 percent of voters must approve.

This week Walker issued a follow-up order to Scott and the Cabinet to replace Florida’s “fatally flawed” system by April 16. He implied no one should have to wait more than one four-year election period. He all but accused Scott and the Cabinet of rigging the system, as opponents charged, to suppress minority - and Democratic - voters.

“There are problems of potential abuse, especially when members of the board who are elected on a statewide basis and who may be running for re-election or another office, have a personal stake in shaping the electorate to their perceived benefit,” the judge said.

Florida voters should endorse Walker’s defense of democracy by voting for Amendment 4.

That it took a court to correct the abuse of power by Scott and the Cabinet underscores what Alexander Hamilton meant when he wrote that “The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution.”

But an independent judiciary is under concerted attack.

Legislators in at least 16 states have filed bills to undermine the judiciary, reports the Brennan Center for Justice. In Pennsylvania, some Republican legislators are attempting to impeach state Supreme Court justices who threw out their gerrymandering scheme.

In the Florida Legislature this year, lawmakers tried to magnify their power and reduce or eliminate the already-weakened influence of the Florida Bar in appointments to the state’s 26 judicial nominating commissions. The commissions are the gatekeepers for seats on the Supreme Court and the district courts of appeal, and appointments to midterm vacancies in the trial courts.

Both bills would have allowed the House Speaker and Senate President to meddle in selecting nominating commissioners, which they can’t do now. One would have minimized the Florida Bar’s participation in those appointments. The other would have cut the Bar out of the process altogether.

These bills didn’t come to a floor vote before the session adjourned, but they’ll likely be back.

Meanwhile, a committee of the Constitution Revision Commission killed a proposal to restore the original balance of the nominating commissions, which would have insulated them from legislative tampering. The fatal votes were cast by people appointed by Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The nonpartisan Bar deserves a key role in the process, more than any politician. Nobody is as well situated as practicing lawyers to evaluate the education, experience, intelligence, integrity and fairness that define a good judge. Political affinity should have nothing to do with it. But today, it does.

When he established the nominating commissions in 1971, Gov. Reubin Askew, a practicing lawyer, intended them to be as immune as possible to politics. The governor appointed three members. The Bar’s Board of Governors named another three. Those six then selected three members from the public.

With strikingly few exceptions, their recommendations were excellent; the nominees’ qualifications were rarely in doubt. That he voluntarily surrendered the governor’s exclusive power to put friends on the bench was praised as “the most unselfish thing any governor ever did.”

But in 2001, the Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush sabotaged the commissions with a law giving the governor the power to name all nine members and allowing Bar input as to only four. Though Bush respected its recommendations, Scott has rejected on 19 occasions the Bar’s lists of lawyers willing to serve on the commissions, insisting on applicants more to his liking. As a result, the commissions have become the equivalent of political patronage committees.

America’s courts have no defense against politicians who seek to stack the bench except the power of public opinion - an opinion that should have no patience this November with politicians who would corrupt the courts to sabotage our fundamental liberties. In Florida, that means having no use for politicians who don’t support making the nominating commissions independent again.

In November, voters should make clear they have no use for politicians who refuse to make the judicial nominating commissions independent again.

Online: http://www.sun-sentinel.com

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April 3

The Lakeland Ledger says the acquittal of Noor Salman, the widow of Omar Mateen, should teach the FBI conduct itself better in terror cases:

An Orlando jury last week acquitted Noor Salman, the widow of Omar Mateen, the Muslim terrorist who massacred 49 people, including two young women from Polk County, in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in June 2016.

Federal prosecutors had alleged that Salman aided and abetted her husband in the horrific crime by not revealing his intent, and obstructed justice by lying to investigators.

Yet in a brief statement to the Orlando Sentinel, the jury’s foreman, who requested anonymity, said the verdict did not reflect what jurors believed about the government’s case. “On the contrary we were convinced she did know,” he said. “She may not have known what day, or what location, but she knew. However, we were not tasked with deciding if she was aware of a potential attack.”

Considering “significant inconsistencies” in the FBI’s written summaries of her statements to investigators as well as “the letter of the law” and the judge’s “detailed instructions,” the jury had “no option but to return a verdict of not guilty,” he added.

We can understand and share the disappointment of survivors wounded in the attack, families of the deceased and the broader community in this outcome. Our innate human desire wants someone to pay for this crime. But as the jury foreman pointed out, Mateen, the true villain, is dead and cannot be punished, and the evidence to send Salman to prison, under our system, was not there. Thus, the jury’s finding should be respected.

Still, this case is instructive because it reminds us that the FBI is in need of a serious leadership overhaul when it comes to terrorist cases.

Undoubtedly, most FBI agents are skilled and dedicated crime-fighters who work diligently to protect our nation. But in recent years the FBI’s actions, whether flowing down from personnel or policies at the top, or the interpretation of those at street level, might be a subject for congressional review.

Recall that the FBI was aware of some of Mateen’s terrorist sympathies, and interviewed him about that, but found no reason to take action against him. Salman’s trial helped explain why: Mateen’s father was a longtime FBI informant.

We can’t say with certainty the FBI would have had grounds to take preemptive action against Mateen before the Pulse shooting. But the agency’s relationship with the gunman’s father suggests a reason why the agency might have hesitated to be more aggressive with him.

It’s not an isolated misstep.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration oriented the FBI toward fighting terrorism. Over that time, we’ve witnessed some exceptional bungles.

The FBI, for example, was aware of, but failed to follow up on, information that Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, the gunman who murdered 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, had extensive contact with a radical Islamic cleric who had connections with the 9/11 hijackers.

In 2011, the Russian government tipped off the FBI that one of the Tsarnaev brothers, perpetrators of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, was traveling overseas for terrorism training. The FBI even interviewed him, yet claimed to not find any links to terror groups.

In 2015, the FBI was surveilling people with terrorism ties who had been in contact with Syed Farook, who, along with his wife, gunned down 14 people at a Christmas party in San Bernardino, California, that year. Investigators dismissed the communications, however, because those in touch with Farook were not considered “significant” players in the terror underworld.

In 2014, the FBI investigated potential terrorism connections to Ahmad Rahami and found no evidence of any. Rahami was later arrested and convicted for a bombing in New York City that wounded 30 people.

Going back further, to 2001, the FBI ignored tips about the killer who post-9/11 sent a series of anthrax-laced letters, killing five. The agency lost years in finding Bruce Ivins, who later committed suicide, because the investigation focused on the wrong suspect.

And let’s not forget the warning signs the FBI missed regarding mass shooter Nikolas Cruz in Parkland.

Noor Salman was not a terrorist, despite her close relationship with one. But Salman, through her acquittal, if that helps the FBI revamp its counter-terrorism techniques, whether done internally or through prodding by Congress, may help us catch more in the future.

Online: http://www.theledger.com

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