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A quirk in the state constitution means Florida could be headed to a legal brawl over the ideological balance of the Florida Supreme Court that would decide the future of the court for decades to come.

Three justices –– Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince –– will be forced under the state constitution’s age limits to retire on Jan. 8, 2019, Gov. Rick Scott’s last day in office. The justices are reliable members of the liberal voting bloc that holds a 4-3 majority on the court.

Even though the appointments are two years away, Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for a fight.

Scott, a Republican, believes he’ll be able to appoint their replacements on his final day in office.

“I’ll appoint three more justices the morning I finish my term,” Scott said last month as he announced Judge Alan Lawson, a conservative, as his pick to replace outgoing Justice James Perry, a liberal, on the court.

But Democrats want the new governor elected in the 2018 to have a say. The appointments are not subject to confirmation by the Legislature.

“The Supreme Court is no place for political gamesmanship,” said House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa. “If Gov. Scott follows through on this assertion, he risks setting off a contentious legal battle with his successor that would mar the transition process and throw our state’s highest court into uncertainty.”

If Scott names the replacements for Pariente, Lewis and Quince, the court could have a solid conservative majority until at least 2025. That’s when justices Ricky Polston and Charles Canady, the other conservatives on the bench, must retire.

The issue of the timing of an appointment to the Florida Supreme Court has come up before. Former Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, agreed on a joint appointment with former Gov. Jeb Bush to name Quince to the court in 1998 — after Bush won the election but before he took office.

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