Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel. April 25, 2022.

Editorial: A Trump judge rated ‘not qualified’ got it wrong on masks

COVID-19 caught the United States unprepared and unwilling in some ways to defend itself against the viral pandemic that has now taken nearly a million American lives. More than 400,000 had been lost by the time Joe Biden, on his first day as president, ordered face-masking across an array of federal agencies. His predecessor had been scornful of it.

There is no reasonable doubt that masks have saved lives, eased the burden on hospitals and helped Americans return to a semblance of normalcy. But a key element of that defense has been swept away by a Florida-based federal judge’s ludicrous interpretation of the word “sanitation” in a 1944 law to mean only cleaning and to disallow face masks. For now, at least, the government is powerless to mandate masking in public transportation, even with infections rising again.

The nation is newly more vulnerable to the next inevitable pandemic and to more of COVID-19′s frequent mutations.

This is the result of how Donald Trump and Senate Republicans damaged the federal judiciary by packing it with people obsessed with “textualism.” It is a legal doctrine that means taking words as literally as possible, regardless of changed circumstances or common sense.

To extend the mask mandate ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle to its ultimate absurdity, the CDC could require airline, train and bus companies to do nothing more than wipe down everything with Lysol.

A sanitation fixation

In her fixation on the word “sanitation” in the 1944 Public Health Service Act, Mizelle deftly ignored a subsequent phrase “and other measures, as … may be necessary.”

Yet she conceded the CDC’s finding that the mandate would limit transmission of the disease and reduce serious illness and death. But she added that it wasn’t enough “to establish good cause.”

Mizelle was on firmer ground in holding that the CDC impermissibly skirted legal requirements for public notice and comment, but that’s easily fixable. Her textualist fantasy, however, can be overcome only by an appeal or by a new law.

The Biden administration has no practical option other than to appeal, which it is doing. Given how COVID-19 precautions have been politicized, congressional action would be at best too slow and perhaps impossible.

An appeal has its own obstacles, which could have even more damaging results. The first stage of an appeal is in the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, where a series of Trump appointments, including two from Florida, have skewed the court to the right. It now has seven judges appointed by Republicans and only four chosen by Democratic presidents.

Beyond lies the Supreme Court, which has already made a mixed record on COVID defenses. With a 6-3 conservative majority — again due to Trump and the Republican Senate — it overturned the CDC’s moratorium on evictions as well as OSHA’s mask mandate for larger businesses. On the other hand, it upheld mandates for military personnel and vaccination requirements for health workers.

Historians in the future will surely be as astonished as many people are today at how vaccination and face-masking, two of the proven front-line defenses against deadly diseases, became the fulcrums of political division between Republicans and Democrats. It is reflected in death statistics as well as in public opinion polls.

Opportunistic state leaders like Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody are to blame for fostering and exploiting that division. With the privately financed lawsuit against the CDC already nearing a decision before Mizelle at the U.S. District Court in Tampa, DeSantis and Moody led 20 other Republican states in filing yet another in the same court against the CDC and other federal agencies. Perhaps long before any court rules, it will pay off handsomely in their fundraising.

Rated ‘not qualified’

Mizelle’s appointment exemplifies how not to pick a judge to serve for a lifetime. With the Senate still controlled by the Republicans in December 2020, after Trump’s defeat, she was nominated by the lame-duck president and confirmed on a 49-41 party-line vote, despite being rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Judiciary. It cited her relative inexperience — she was 33 at the time — having been a lawyer only eight years, and alleged that she had not tried to completion a civil or criminal case as a lead or co-counsel.

Civil rights organizations objected to her record as a Justice Department attorney in helping to rescind Title IX guidance that protected transgender students and to filing a brief arguing in the Supreme Court that businesses have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ customers.

What undoubtedly mattered more to Trump was that she had been a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and belonged to the Federalist Society, Trump’s go-to source for lifetime judicial appointments. She reportedly referred to Thomas as “the greatest living American.”

The Society is also one of DeSantis’ litmus tests for judicial appointment. The group exalts textualism in the interpretation of constitutional and statutory language. It’s a convenient pretext for rejecting anything the authors of the state and federal constitutions did not explicitly foresee — like a pandemic.

Republicans unabashedly promise more of the same if they regain control of the U.S. Senate and return Trump to the presidency. Marco Rubio, Florida’s senior senator, hailed Mizelle’s decision and took credit for recommending her. That bears remembering in November.

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Palm Beach Post. April 24, 2022.

Editorial: Florida math book ban miscalculates

With great fanfare and very little evidence, the Florida Department of Education banned more than 50 new math textbooks for containing “indoctrinating information” on “prohibited topics.” Specific examples of offensive material are still hard to come by, which should anger parents who want better schools, not more crass politics.

Where are the examples of “indoctrination,” “prohibited topics” and “divisive concepts” that threaten public schools in Florida and have so rattled Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran?

Barring proof that publishers are now pushing 3+3 equals CRT, the decision amounts to a nod to fringe politics. It clearly hasn’t helped school districts now thrown into a tizzy as they scramble for instructional material for the upcoming school year.

We believe parents want better educational opportunities in Florida’s public schools, not the political theater that only undermines public school instruction. We aren’t convinced that the governor or his education department share that view.

The math book decision certainly fits the governor’s push to gain greater control over Florida school districts. In 2020, he removed Common Core, educational standards once championed by former President George W. Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Last year, he banned the teaching of critical race theory, an academic concept that grew out of a 1970 legal analysis of the nation’s racial landscape but isn’t taught in any K-12 schools.

Just last month, Gov. DeSantis signed into law HB 1467, legislation that sets term limits for school board members and mandates school boards open the process of reviewing textbooks for purchase to the public under the auspices of “curriculum transparency.” That law also requires the state Department of Education to publish an annual list of books that failed to meet standards, including the reasons behind the decisions. To date, the department’s explanations for rejecting the math books seem both extraordinarily vague and contrary to the letter and spirit of the new law.

Again, transparency is essential. Otherwise onlookers, from concerned parents to enraged political observers, will fill the void with their own reasons, including the notion that the change benefits favored publishers. Currently, Accelerate Learning, a Houston, Texas-based firm, is the only publisher meeting the new standards and its book, STEMscopes Florida Math will be the only book available for regular math classes.

Facing harsh scrutiny, the department released the titles of the offending books and their publishers. Still unknown are the words, photos, graphics or sources that somehow would indoctrinate young students to embrace CRT or change their gender. The hope is that that information comes out in the department’s appeal process, if not sooner.

In the meantime, the ban has thrown many school districts that had already chosen books for the fall and are now scrambling to adjust. It wasn’t immediately clear if Palm Beach County has any of the now-rejected books, but school officials say the district has already reviewed, approved and paid for new math textbooks for the upcoming school year.

Parents should demand the department follow the new law, if only insofar as providing much needed “curriculum transparency” in evaluating textbooks. In an increasingly complex and diverse world, Florida’s schoolchildren deserve the best educational material possible, not one filtered through a particular political dogma. Unfortunately, in trying to “own the libs,” state leaders are shortchanging students.

“Math is about the right answer,” DeSantis said in Jacksonville last Monday. “We want kids to learn to think so they get the right answer. It’s not about how you feel about the problem or to introduce some of these other things.”

Right now there aren’t enough answers from DeSantis.

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Orlando Sentinel. April 22, 2022.

Editorial: Florida maps violate foundations of justice

It wasn’t just the way GOP lawmakers colluded to pass a congressional redistricting map that defies the Florida Constitution, drawing lines clearly meant to benefit Republicans over any other consideration.

It wasn’t just the lamentable decision to grovel to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ whim, in a way they never have before.

It wasn’t just the decision to eradicate districts intended to give Black voters a shot at electing candidates who look like them (including the Central Florida district currently served by U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Orlando).

It was the indifference.

DeSantis, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson knew they were undoing decades of work toward fairer, more representative elections. They knew, but they didn’t care. They knew this legislation, which favors Republicans in 20 of the state’s 28 congressional districts, fails the standard set by the Fair Districts amendments passed in 2010. They didn’t care about that either.

And when the floor of the Florida House erupted in furious protest Thursday, Sprowls betrayed not a flicker of compassion or comprehension. Instead, he lassoed the chaos to shove two more despicable bills though final passage, with no debate.

Serving the wrong master

The map lawmakers approved was not their first attempt. In March, they sent DeSantis a redistricting plan that eliminated one of Florida’s four designated “majority-minority” districts, drawn with enough Black voters to make a Black candidate’s election likely. It wasn’t enough for DeSantis, who demanded the elimination of a second majority-minority district in Central Florida.

The governor’s involvement was highly unusual. Under Florida law, legislators determine the districts, with the governor approving or vetoing the final map. When DeSantis sent lawmakers a map drawn to his specifications, he flipped the script. That’s not unusual; over the past months DeSantis has transformed legislators into lapdogs several times.

Before the House voted, Sprowls opened the floor for limited debate. Dissenters were limited to a few minutes of protest apiece. And Black lawmakers made their anguish known, telling the stories of parents and grandparents turned away from the polls. They described the urgency and awe they felt when walking with civil-rights greats such as Carrie Meek, Shirley Chisholm, John Lewis. They tried to get Republican lawmakers to understand how it felt to watch hard-won victories being picked apart, to see rights eroded.

But when Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, went over her allotted time, her microphone was cut off. The floor erupted into a planned — but passionate — protest, with lawmakers staging a sit-in at the front of the House chamber and singing hymns.

Sprowls called a brief recess, but when lawmakers reconvened and chanting resumed, he seized the opportunity to put the redistricting plan (SB 2C) to a rapid vote. It passed 68-38. Next up were two bills (SB 4C, SB 6C) meant to punish Disney for its opposition to a parental-rights bill that overtly targets LGBTQ+ students and teachers. Both passed by similar margins.

A calculated indifference

Here’s the worst part of what’s happening in Florida: DeSantis, Sprowls, Simpson and the lawmakers who fall in line behind them may not harbor hatred for racial or sexual minorities. But — as U.S. District Judge Mark Walker pointed out in a blockbuster ruling three weeks ago — Florida’s Republicans have learned that prejudice can be harnessed for their own political benefit. They have wielded bigotry like a useful, all-purpose tool. They have marginalized vulnerable students struggling with their sexuality — for political gain. They have banned classroom discussions of racism’s modern realities — again, because it was advantageous to their agenda.

And they shrug off any reproach. It’s just politics.

That’s why they don’t comprehend the havoc they wreak.

Fair representation is not just about politics. It’s about personhood. It’s wrong to make laws that make people afraid to speak out about who they are. It’s wrong to draw lines on a map that make some Florida voters invisible.

The state’s current leadership may not see that. But increasingly, the Floridians they represent do.

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Tampa Bay Times. April 22, 2022.

Editorial: Unneeded guidance on transgender issues in Florida

Sexual identity of Florida children is a personal, family issue.

The governor of what he declares “the freest state in these United States” is once again sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ health department issued guidance advising against gender identity treatment for children and teenagers outside of counseling. It was another mean-spirited effort to profit politically from struggling Floridians.

The guidelines released by the Florida Department of Health recommend against gender-affirming treatment for people under the age of 18, including surgery, prescription of hormone therapy and puberty blockers, which suppress the release of testosterone or estrogen. Florida’s updated guidance also said social transition — things like using a different name, pronouns or style of dress — should not be a treatment option.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported, the state’s guidance runs counter to recommendations from major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association. Guidance issued by the Office of Population Affairs, which falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says research shows that gender-affirming care like social transitions and hormone therapy can improve the mental health and well-being of transgender and nonbinary children and adolescents.

State surgeon general Joseph Ladapo issued Wednesday’s guidance as a counterpoint to the federal recommendations, saying in a statement that the federal government’s position was “about injecting political ideology into the health of our children.” That’s rich coming from a DeSantis appointee who’s wasted no time parroting the governor’s talking points on COVID-19, battling mask mandates and downplaying vaccines. Nobody is waiting on these two for guidance on sexual identity.

This time, the governor’s spokesperson is right — the guidance is just that, advice that children, their parents and their physicians may heed or ignore. But in a statement, the rights group Equality Florida underscored the danger. “Once again, the DeSantis administration seeks to replace science and the safety of young people with political propaganda,” the group said. “This guidance demonizes life-saving, medically-necessary care, and asserts that the government, not parents, knows best when it comes to health care for our children.”

Children and adolescents already struggle with the challenge of growing up and finding their place in the world. The state should be helping them secure their identities, not erecting barriers in the formative years, or stigmatizing the pain of conflicting feelings as an abnormality or mental illness.

Whether this has a chilling effect on medical professionals, or further confuses families, or serves as a harbinger of tougher action to come remains to be seen. But it’s totally out of sync with what Florida Republicans say about protecting freedom, children, parental rights and the independent judgment of doctors.

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Miami Herald. April 22, 2022.

Editorial: Why do Florida Republicans hate Critical Race Theory? Because they engage in the racist behavior it exposes

Florida’s Republicans sure have a way with words. LGBTQ residents are “groomers” out to subvert innocent children. Protesting peacefully can get you arrested in the “free” state of Florida.

And, Thursday, Democrats’ protest on the floor of the state House was an “insurrection.”

At least Republican lawmakers are on brand: They have made clear time and again that when it comes to living on equitable footing in Florida, gays, women and Blacks need not apply.

The so-called insurrection actually was Black lawmakers’ refusal to take their GOP colleagues’ blatant attempt to disenfranchise Black voters lying down.

Instead, some of them sat down — staging an old-fashioned sit-in right there in the floor of the House. Joined by white and Hispanic colleagues, they were making clear that Republicans had gone too far in their quest to disenfranchise Black Floridians.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls tried to cast the protest as an attempt by the Democrats to “hijack” the legislative process and interfere with their colleagues’ ability to “debate important legislation.” He insisted that those who continued to work their mischief were simply completing their “constitutional duty to pass a Congressional map.”

He said, “This group tried to drown out the voices of the other elected representatives and the 22 million Floridians they represent.”

NO, IT’S THE GOP

Sprowls should look in the mirror. The ones hijacking the legislative process are the Republicans he leads. The ones who are drowning out the voices of other members of the Legislature? The GOP again.

And the Legislature’s job, as he well knows, is to pass a congressional map that represents the populace, not the governor’s hand-crafted, self-interested version.

One Republican had the gall to draw parallels between the Democratic legislators’ protest and the attempt on Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn the presidential election.

Rep. Randy Fine, from Brevard County, tweeted: “I hope the insurrection on the House floor is dealt with. #LockThemUP.”

But peaceful protest — and that’s what this was — isn’t even in the same universe as what happened at the U.S. Capitol last year: It was a deadly effort by pro-Trump mobs to violently overturn a generally squeaky-clean election, viciously assaulting police, vandalizing lawmakers’ officers and threatening the very life of the vice president.

What happened on the floor of the Florida House was what happens when U.S. citizens are denied the right of representation — when time and again, their right to vote is curtailed, when they are told, unequivocally, that the quality of their lives in this state doesn’t matter.

RARE SHOW OF FORCE

Republican lawmakers, a few weeks ago, stood up to Gov. DeSantis — itself a shock and a surprise — as he sought to usurp their constitutional responsibility to draw up Florida’s decennial congressional maps. The governor’s version bolstered Republicans’ representation in Congress at the expense of Black Floridians’ voting power.

But the governor vetoed legislators’ fairer maps and called a special session to “revisit” the issue. In other words, to get what he wanted. And the members of his party, indeed, rolled over.

“I’ve been kicked. I’ve been talked about and I have been called names you don’t even put in the dictionary anymore,” Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, an African-American lawmaker and Democrat from Gainesville, told her colleagues Thursday, before Republicans cut her off. “The Voting Rights Act of 1965, I fought for that. I’ve met Martin Luther King, I don’t just talk about him. He taught me peaceful protests, and here we are 2022 rolling back the tide.”

Of course, Hinson gave Republicans the very lesson in American history that they want to snuff out in school classrooms, claiming it is too uncomfortable to learn about our shared racist past.

Miami Rep. Dotie Joseph, a Haitian-American Democrat, said the protest was about more than redistricting maps.

“These people who are in charge do not care about the people of Florida. People have real needs right now,” Joseph told the Editorial Board.

“We all want to be safe. We want to be free. We believe in a modicum of equality and equity. We believe in meritocracy, in being a place where there is freedom and justice for all.

“But they are using culture wars to distract people from the things that unify us.”

As for the protest on the House floor, she said: “This is not unique to this time in history. When things are wrong, people speak up. But the radical right does not take kindly to protest.”

The DeSantis maps passed in the House, by the way. Done deal — and a dirty one.

No wonder lawmakers don’t want critical race theory to be taught anywhere. They are gleefully engaging in the same institutional racism that CRT exposes.

And these lawmakers know it.

END

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