If you resist believing that today’s GOP is intent upon replacing democracy with autocracy– controlled, of course, by the GOP–you need only look at what they are doing in the states.
One person, one vote? How old-fashioned!
Efforts to negate the popular vote have moved way beyond gerrymandering. In Wisconsin, Republicans are exploring ways to undo the election of a state Supreme Court Justice who won by eleven points. Texas’ lunatic legislature has passed a different set of rules for cities populated by “those people,” who tend to vote Democrat.
And then, of course, there’s Ron DeFascists’ Florida, where folks who voted for their local prosecutor can wake up to find that the governor has summarily dismissed their electoral choice. The Brennan Center (link unavailable) recently focused on his latest arbitrary and undemocratic dismissal of a popularly elected official.
In 2020, Monique Worrell was elected to serve as the prosecutor for the Orlando area. She’d campaigned on a reform platform that evidently was too “woke” for DeSantis, who proceeded to suspend her from office for “neglect of duty and incompetence.” Worrell has filed suit in the Florida Supreme Court challenging her suspension.
Worrell’s lawsuit is one of a number of current state court cases that raise important constitutional questions about the scope of prosecutorial discretion — the power of prosecutors to decide when and how to charge crimes, seek bail or sentencing enhancements, or make other decisions about how they pursue cases. It’s an issue receiving scrutiny across the country, with laws recently enacted in Georgia and Texas authorizing prosecutors’ removal for certain uses of discretion.
The Florida Constitution authorizes the governor to suspend prosecutors like Worrell for specified reasons, including neglect of duty or incompetence. In her lawsuit, Worrell argues that DeSantis failed to allege any conduct meeting that constitutional standard.
Worrell’s office had no policy or practice of failing to enforce certain laws, and her charging decisions were well within the bounds of what most lawyers consider to be proper prosecutorial discretion. Policy differences between a local prosecutor and a governor are not legal grounds for suspension.
This isn’t the first time DeSantis has targeted an elected local prosecutor. In 2022, he suspended Tampa-area prosecutor Andrew Warren, citing pledges he signed not to prosecute certain types of cases, including those related to abortion and gender-affirming health care.
A federal court ruled that Warren’s suspension violated both the Florida Constitution and the First Amendment, but the court held that it lacked the authority to reinstate him. The Florida Supreme Court — which would have the authority to overturn the governor’s suspension — then rejected a petition from Warren filed six months after his suspension after concluding he had waited too long to file. Worrell’s petition, filed less than a month after her suspension, will likely force the state high court to directly consider the relationship between the governor and local prosecutors in implementing criminal justice policy.
Similar issues are pending in other state supreme courts. In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is challenging his 2022 impeachment by the state house of representatives, arguing that his exercise of discretion did not constitute “misbehavior in office.” Georgia prosecutors are challenging a law imposing new limits on their discretion and creating new mechanisms to remove them from office. In Arizona, taking his cue from Republicans, the state’s Democratic governor stripped local district attorneys of the power to prosecute cases under the state’s 15-week abortion ban, using an executive order to transfer that power to the state attorney general, who has vowed not to enforce it.
These autocratic exercises significantly undercut democracy.
According to the New York Times, Ms. Worrell had been elected with 66% of the vote, and she released data showing that her prosecution rate was similar to that of two of her predecessors. Whether her performance was unsatisfactory was a question for the voters–not the Governor–to decide.
DeSantis justified her removal by citing several offenders who had committed crimes after serving their (presumably insufficient) sentences, or while out on bail; Ms. Worrell responded by pointing out that examples cited by the governor involved factors beyond a prosecutor’s control. Sentences and bonds are set by judges who are free to overrule prosecutors’ recommendations.
And she said that much of the information that was used to build a case against her came from local law enforcement officials who oppose her because she has prosecuted police officers, including one who shot an unarmed person.
“My message has been consistently, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, whether you like me or you hate me: Democracy is under attack,” she said. “Duly elected officials should not be removed by elected officials who are not politically aligned with them.”