Correction: Corrections have been made to the article to correctly state the NRA is suing the state of Florida at the federal level, not at the state level. Therefore, Florida amending its constitution would not stop the NRA’s federal lawsuit, but it would prevent future lawsuits filed at the state level. As stated in the article, even if Florida successfully amends its constitution, the NRA can win its federal lawsuit, causing Florida’s gun bill to be struck down.
On March 9, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed legislation that will drastically change the state’s gun laws. The bill effectively bans bump stocks, raises the age required to purchase rifles, implements a three-day waiting period for gun purchases, and allows specific school staff members to carry a firearm if they want to do so. Some Floridians are pleased with the legislation, even if they opposed the new age restriction or hoped the law would do more. Others love everything about it. And then there are those who are calling the law unconstitutional and a blatant violation of the Second Amendment. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is in the last camp and announced this weekend that it would be suing the state.
While the NRA’s lawsuit is winnable at the federal level, Florida has a way to defeat lawsuits at the state level. The state can prevent a lawsuit with these three words: Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).
If Florida can successfully amend its constitution, the law can no longer be said to be unconstitutional at the state level, and any challenges at the state level will fail.
While Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides two ways for amending the U.S. Constitution – a proposal from Congress that passes both chambers with two-thirds of the vote or a constitutional convention by two-thirds of the states – Article IX of Florida’s constitution allows for the Florida constitution to be amended five different ways.
For those who are not from the Sunshine State or for those who may be unfamiliar with Florida’s CRC, the CRC is a group of 37 individuals that meets every 20 years to propose changes to the state’s constitution. Thirty-six of the 37 members earn their place on the commission via appointment. Florida’s governor is given the authority to appoint 15 members, the state’s House Speaker and the state’s Senate President each appoint nine members, and the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court selects three. The 37th member of the commission is the state’s Attorney General who, at this time, is Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Here’s how the CRC works. The 37 individuals mentioned above get together to discuss the state’s constitution and the issues facing Floridians. Over the course of their meetings, they decide whether a constitutional amendment will help solve those issues or not. If the commission agrees on an amendment proposal, it goes on the ballot for voters to support or oppose. Throughout the commission’s decision-making process, it travels the state to hear from voters themselves. The meetings are open to the public, and they allow Floridians to voice their concerns about state issues, as well as give the commission feedback on its rumored proposals. Once the commission approves an amendment, the amendment appears on the ballot and requires 60 percent of the popular vote to become a part of the constitution.
The last time the CRC met in 1998, it created nine amendments to Florida’s constitution. That November, Florida voters voted in favor of eight of them.
According to reporting from the Miami Herald, CRC member Roberto Martinez, appointed by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, proposed to the rest of the CRC that the new age restriction and waiting period for firearms should be an amendment proposal on this year’s ballot.
Minutes after the governor signed the bill, Washington lawyers for the National Rifle Association filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law, alleging it violates the Second Amendment. The Martinez proposal would place the firearm safety measure of the law into the constitution, fortifying the law against a state constitutional challenge, not a federal one.
“I think the law is constitutional,” said Martinez, a partner at Colson Hicks Edison and former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “Can lawyers come up with arguments against it? Of course. To the extent this eliminates any constitutional challenges, we should adopt it.”
Martinez said he has spoken with individual members of the 37-member CRC to discuss his proposal and “everybody has said they are open to considering it. There has been strong support from some,’’ he said.
“The CRC should put the proposed amendment on the ballot in November, allowing the voters to cast their support,” Martinez said.
However, Martinez’s efforts would be meaningless if the NRA wins its federal lawsuit. There’s a lot riding on this lawsuit for the NRA and Second Amendment supporters.
The Florida CRC’s next public hearing will be on March 13, from 1:00 pm to 7:00 pm ET on the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg campus at the University Student Center.