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Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category

N.M. Editorial: Can Judicial Selection Process Be Improved?

state-flag-new-mexicoAn unusual, hybrid process for choosing judges in New Mexico, which combines judicial screening commissions, partisan elections and retention (up-or-down) elections, has come in for editorial criticism from the Rio Rancho Observer.

“Judicial selection process leaves much to be desired,” the editorial’s headline states. It examines the recent process for filling a new district court judgeship in Sandoval County, using a judicial nominating commission followed by gubernatorial appointment; it appears the newly appointed judge will be replaced by a different, elected judge after November.

The judicial nominating commission’s vetting of candidates is valuable, the editorial says, for choosing the best-qualified judge. It continues, “But what value is its time and where is its place in the selection process if its recommendations are, in effect, set aside by a political party?”

You can learn more about New Mexico’s hybrid process for picking judges from the American Judicature Society’s “Judicial Selection in the States” website. The American Judicature Society is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

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New Group Urges ‘No’ Vote on Judicial Selection Amendment

TennesseeA group announced in Tennessee on Tuesday it will work to defeat  a proposed constitutional amendment to help preserve an appointive process for selecting appellate state judges.

Supporters of the effort urging citizens to vote “No” on Amendment 2 argued that the proposal tramples on a requirement in the constitution to elect appellate judges, The Tennessean reported. However, a version of the state’s current merit selection system has withstood court challenges. The current system includes a judicial screening panel and gubernatorial appointment of judges combined with retention (up-or-down) elections when a judge seeks a new term. Read more

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Ethics Watchdog Casts ‘Ballot Against Judicial Elections’

“I cast my ballot against judicial elections,” writes Jessica Levinson, who teaches at Loyola Law School-Los Angeles, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. Her essay is entitled, “Why voters shouldn’t be electing judges.”

In an explanatory piece about how judicial elections for lower courts in California work — or fall short of working — Levinson points out how little meaningful information voters know about judicial candidates and how lawyers who appear before judges are most likely to make contributions in judicial elections. She goes on to cite the “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12” compiled by JAS and two partner organizations:

“It is problematic for judicial candidates to ask for and receive money from those who may have cases before them in the future. A 2013 report by the Brennan Center, the National Institute on Money in State Politics and Justice at Stake detailed the pitfalls of such a system.” Read more

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Haslam: Judicial Ouster Effort Could Complicate Selection Reform

61GJmCrFZDL._SL1500_Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, said he would not join an effort by fellow Republicans to defeat three state Supreme Court justices in retention elections this August, nor would he defend the targeted justices.

When asked why he would not join the campaign effort of Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, Haslam said, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “I think on an election like this, I’m trying to think of the best way to put that, to let the candidates themselves speak for why they should be retained and as the person who would be appointing their replacement I don’t think it’s a proper role for me to play.”

Haslam also said, according to the Associated Press, that the ouster effort could “muddy the waters” for the fate of a proposed constitutional amendment he backs to help preserve an appointive process for selecting appellate Tennessee judges (see Gavel Grab for background about the amendment). Read more

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MN Editorial Argues for Judicial Reform Amendment

An editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune argues that, “Antipathy toward constitutional amendments at the 2014 Legislature is understandable,” but that should not stop a judicial reform amendment from being placed on the November ballot.

The editorial admits it’s a long-shot that the amendment, which would replace contested judicial elections with “retention” elections, allowing voters to remove a judge from the bench but not to install his or her replacement, will go before voters.

Read more

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Bipartisan Leaders Kick Off Tennessee Judicial Selection Campaign

Former Sen. Thompson

Former Sen. Thompson

Bipartisan leaders kicked off this week an initiative to build voter support for a proposed constitutional amendment to help preserve an appointive process for selecting appellate Tennessee judges.

“The way we choose our judges — the importance of our judges having the confidence of our people — is the fundamental bedrock of any government,” said former Republican U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson. “If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything else.” He joined Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, and former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, at the kick-off event, The Tennessean reported.

In a Tennessean op-ed, Thompson and Bredesen wrote, “Passing Amendment #2 will not only bring clarity and certainty to the way Tennesseans choose our Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges, but it also will add new accountability and a stronger voice for Tennessee voters in the selection process.” Failure to pass the amendment, they added, “could lead to out-of-state special interest groups trying to buy our courts and influence the selection of our judges.” Read more

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Attack on Merit Selection Rejected by Oklahoma House

Seal_of_Oklahoma.svgThe Oklahoma state House resoundingly defeated a proposal to change the composition of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission in a way that critics said would politicize the process of selecting judges.

“You’re injecting an extreme amount of partisanship into the process,” House Democratic leader Scott Inman said about the legislation to alter a merit-based process for choosing judges that has operated for nearly half a century.

The House rejected  the Senate-passed measure in a  65-31 vote, the Associated Press reported.

Republican Rep. Dave Dank said the screening panel was established by popular vote in the 1960s following a scandal. Regarding the current legislation, he warned, ”This thing is serious.” Dank added, “It’s the third branch of government. And it needs to be treated with the utmost respect.” Read more

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Oklahoma House Vote Expected on Screening Commission Shift

A proposal to change the way some members of Oklahoma’s 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission are chosen continues to be embroiled in controversy.

423357Because the proposal would allow the governor, House speaker, and Senate president pro tem to make 14 of the 15 appointments, “If you came before that commission and you weren’t somebody that was in good standing with the Republican party, what chance do you have to get the job?” asked John Tucker, currently a member of the commission. Republicans control the House and Senate, and a Republican is governor.

According to a Public Radio Tulsa report, the proposed change “is more likely to lead to courts that are more reflective of the people,” said University of Pittsburgh professor Chris Bonneau. Read more

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Proposal on OK Judicial Screening Panel Sparks Controversy

OklahomaSome leading Democratic legislators warn that a proposal advancing in the Oklahoma House would politicize the selection of judges and constitute a power grab by Republicans.

The House Rules Committee advanced to the chamber’s floor a proposal to shift the way some members of the 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission are chosen. Members of the state Bar now choose six attorney members. The legislation would have the House Speaker choose three attorney members and the Senate president pro tem appoint three.

“My team has grown weary with Republican attempts to meddle with the third branch of government,” said House Democratic leader Scott Inman, according to the Associated Press. He said proposals to wrest away more legislative control over picking appellate judges was an effort by Republican leaders to exert greater political influence. Read more

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Editorial: Nominating Commissions a “Better Way to Pick Judges”

An editorial in the Virginian-Pilot makes the case for judicial selection reform in a state that currently relies on its state legislature to fill judicial vacancies.  Noting that “In Virginia, getting a judicial post requires a friend in the General Assembly, “ the editorial argues that a vacancy on the state bench historically has led to extensive political maneuvering to fill posts that often become “patronage positions.”  Elections are no better, the editorial maintains, because campaign donations to judges raise numerous ethical questions when and if donors appear in court.

Instead, the editorial proposes, Virginia should consider setting up a system that includes a bipartisan commission  responsible for objectively evaluating judicial candidates and recommending nominees to lawmakers.  Such nominating commissions are elements of merit selection systems currently in use in at least two dozen states.  The editorial urges Virginia lawmakers to consider revamping judicial selection in the state, while noting that they have been reluctant to undertake reforms in past years.

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