Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category
“[I]t’s for the best” that a set of proposals to reshape Oklahoma’s judiciary, submitted in the legislature by then-House Speaker T.W. Shannon, have died in committee, a Tulsa World editorial said.
Shannon sponsored the legislation in response to state Supreme Court rulings that found parts of Shannon’s top legislative achievements unconstitutional. His proposals that recently died included a 12-year term limit for some judges, mandatory retirement for judges at age 75 and changes to the way judicial nominees are selected. Shannon has departed the legislature.
“Changes to our form of government on this scale shouldn’t be made in hasty reaction to events. It’s a variation of the old theme that hard cases make bad law. Reshaping our form of government calls for deliberation and consensus both of which were missing from the effort,” the editorial said.
Judicial elections in Minnesota are a “sham” today, and “it may be worth it for Minnesota voters to have a discussion on the topic this fall,” Tom West, editor of the Sauk Centre Dairyland Peach, writes in an opinion column for the paper.
Sauk Centre had a population of more than 4,000 in the last census, and West offers a style that is more biting and folksy than much other discussion of a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way judges are selected in Minnesota (see Gavel Grab for background about the merit-selection proposal).
He recalls the time more than three decades ago when a judge in Fillmore County had an affair with his secretary, presided over a portion of the divorce proceedings between her and her husband, was censured, and was re-elected. Local voters opposed the judge’s re-election but voters further away in the district did not know of the episode, West writes. It’s evidence that Minnesota’s current system for electing judges needs to be changed, he adds.
Eyeing a proposal to change the way Minnesota judges are selected, a Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial writer says the proposal’s foes are driven by ideology, not by a desire to choose the most qualified judges.
The proposed constitutional amendment calls for gubernatorial appointment of judges from a list of finalists recommended by a merit selection commission, a retention (up-or-down) election if the judge seeks to stay on the bench, and nonpartisan evaluation of judges’ performance by an independent performance evaluation commission. The bipartisan Coalition for Impartial Justice is pushing for its adoption. In the newspaper essay, Lori Sturdevant criticizes the measure’s foes, who wish to preserve contested judicial elections:
“The anti-retention crowd favors more high-profile, wedge-issue, big-money battles between sitting judges and challengers of their choosing. They want to dump judges they dislike and replace them with their own ilk.”
Among prominent advocates for the Impartial Justice Act is former Gov. Al Quie, a Republican. “The goal is to improve the chances that justice Read more
A bipartisan group called the Coalition for Impartial Justice kicked off its public lobbying effort at Minnesota’s capitol on Wednesday to push for a change in the way state judges are chosen.
Some neighboring states have experienced high-spending judicial elections marked by partisanship, and the Minnesota reformers are seeking to head off such developments by winning passage of a proposed constitutional amendment. It calls for gubernatorial appointment of judges from a list of finalists recommended by a merit selection commission, a retention (up-or-down) election if the judge seeks to stay on the bench, and nonpartisan evaluation of judges’ performance by an independent performance evaluation commission.
“The judicial system works because people trust it and they don’t think it is bought and paid for,” said former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune article. An appointee of then-GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Justice Magnuson is a prominent advocate for the amendment, called the Impartial Justice Act.
“The restraints are off” when it comes to fundraising for North Carolina Supreme Court elections this year, a Greensboro News & Record editorial warns, and that means wealthy contributors and special-interest groups that fund a judge’s election may see their cases decided by the same jurist.
The editorial laments the legislature’s killing North Carolina’s public financing program for judicial races and its raising donation limits. “Now that individuals can give 10 times as much, candidates may raise and spend more money, and the potential for undue influence is multiplied,” the editorial says.
Instead, the editorial favors an alternative system for selecting judges, including a nonpartisan commission that screens qualified candidates, appointment by the governor and retention (up-or-down) elections if a judge seeks another term. The editorial concludes:
“An appointment system would not eliminate politics. But elections favor politicians, not necessarily people who would make the best judges. Throw in unlimited amounts of money and the risk of bad outcomes is too high.”
“I don’t think we could have a worse way to select judges than in partisan elections,” former presiding Judge Scott Vowell of Alabama’s Jefferson County Circuit Court said as he was retiring from the bench in 2013, according to an Al.com blog.
And as Gavel Grab mentioned earlier, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissent last fall that elected Alabama judges “appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures” in overruling juries to impose death sentences in capital cases.
To show another side to the debate about the best way to choose judges, the blog quoted from a paper published on The Federalist Society website, written by several lawyers and law professors. The paper said that “the public in states which elect judges will be better able to rein in the judiciary and block the continued deterioration of the civil justice system.” Read more
There is anxiety in the Kansas Legislature over an upcoming state Supreme Court decision on public education funding, and that anxiety “has apparently spurred” the introduction of bills to trim the authority of the court and its Chief Justice, Martin Hawver contends in a Hawver News Co. column.
One bill prohibits any Kansas court from spending money to hire a lobbyist, although, Hawver asserts, there are “Not a lot of court-hired lobbyists around the Statehouse.” Another would strip the Chief Justice of his authority to appoint 31 judicial district chief judges (see Gavel Grab), and a third would diminish the Chief Justice’s authority by having the Court of Appeals choose its own chief judge.
There is resolution to dismantle the judicial nominating commission that screens candidates for the state Supreme Court and recommends finalists to the governor for appointment, and another to switch to election of Supreme Court justices.
A proposed amendment to the Alaska constitution, sponsored by a group of Republican senators, would revamp membership of the Alaska Judicial Council and effectively give control of the panel to the governor.
The council serves dual roles, as both a judicial nominating commission and a judicial performance evaluation board, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The proposed amendment would expand the council’s membership from seven to 16 including 10 members appointed by the governor, subject to legislative confirmation; five appointed by the state Bar; and also the sitting Chief Justice. Currently the seven members include the Chief Justice, three attorney members appointed by the Bar and three non-attorney members appointed by the governor subject to legislative confirmation.
An Alaska Public Media report said the council has become something of a “lightning rod” because of its influence over whom the governor appoints to the bench.
Numerous groups continue to weigh in on the future of judicial elections in Tennessee. The latest – Tennesseans for Independent Courts – is a nonprofit political action committee dedicated to educating the public on judicial issues.
According to Tennessee Watchdog.org, the group formed on January 10 to educate the public of the “dangers of partisan political pressures on judicial elections and appointments.”
Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who has made no secret of his unhappiness with a state Supreme Court ruling on tort reform last year, has introduced legislation affecting judicial retirement ages, term limits and selection.
According to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, the Republican legislator introduced measures that would do the following:
- Establish a mandatory retirement age of 75 for appellate judges
- Establish 12-year term limits for judges on the Civil Court of Appeals; Shannon has also voiced support for term limits for jurists on the state Supreme Court and Criminal Court of Appeals
- Revise membership rules for the Judicial Nominating Commission. Instead of the Oklahoma Bar Association choosing six of its members, the House Speaker would choose three and President Pro Tempore of the Senate would choose three
Even before the Speaker filed his legislation, a Norman Transcript editorial recently warned against legislators retaliating against the courts over controversial rulings (see Gavel Grab).
The National Center for State Courts is a JAS partner organization.