Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category

Tennessee Judicial Selection Change on Ballot This Fall

This fall, Tennessee voters will consider a ballot item to change the way appellate judges are elected. It’s getting more attention now, and an attorney told a Memphis area audience that if it is defeated, contested judicial elections are likely ahead.

“If amendment two fails, we are headed one place – full out contested candidate filed elections for our appellate positions. … That’s not a threat, that’s a promise,” said attorney Lang Wiseman, according to the Memphis Daily News. A former Shelby County Republican chairman, Wiseman called the idea of contested judicial elections “disastrous.” Read more

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Editorial: In Choosing MN Judges, Reform Would Be a Better Idea

Minnesota_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005Political party endorsement of judicial candidates serve “very little” good and are vastly outweighed by the harm they do “to public confidence in the impartiality of state judges,” a Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial declared.

The editorial discussed recent events that have caused an awkward position for the state GOP. The party endorsed a candidate for the state Supreme Court, Michelle MacDonald, and it subsequently was made public that she was facing charges on suspicion of drunken driving and resisting arrest.

The editorial spoke favorably of a proposal to reform the way Minnesota judges are selected, advocated by a group called the Coalition for Impartial Justice (for background, see Gavel Grab). The editorial explained: Read more

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In Arkansas, a Call to Weigh Shift to Merit Selection

justice-scalesIs a new debate ahead in Arkansas over the best way to select impartial judges?

The issue has been percolating lately (see Gavel Grab), and now Roy Ockert, editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun, has written a CourierNews.com op-ed urging consideration of a shift from nonpartisan elections to the “Missouri Plan” of merit selection.

In Arkansas, Ockert writes, “we the people are still electing our judges, but the process is becoming corrupted.” He says the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the door for special interest groups to raise large sums and then target and sometimes smear judicial candidates, who are limited by ethics restrictions in their ability to respond. Read more

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Editorial: Keep ‘Poisoned Waters’ of Politics, Money out of Courts

Sales-Tax-money-gavelThe toxic influence of special interest spending and partisan politics on judicial elections is drawing commentary in Arkansas, including a tough Log Cabin Democrat editorial.

“The story of Mike Maggio and the nursing home money is a textbook-worthy lesson on how politics and money will forever poison the waters of law and justice,” the editorial said.  Circuit Judge Maggio received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions tied to a nursing home company shortly before he reduced from $5.2 million to $1 million an award in the death of a resident at a company-owned facility (see Gavel Grab).

Moreover, couples challenging an Arkansas ban on marriage of same-sex couples have requested that any Arkansas Supreme Court justices who intend to run for re-election step aside from hearing an appeal in the matter,  the editorial mentioned. The plaintiffs say legislators have employed “intimidation tactics” to influence the outcome of an appeal before the high court (Gavel Grab has background). Read more

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Fixes Needed for N.M. Method of Judicial Selection, Judge Says

state-flag-new-mexicoJudge J. Miles Hanisee of the New Mexico Court of Appeals is among the latest to voice concern about a hybrid process that combines merit selection and partisan elections for picking state judges.

Eight new district court judges have recently been selected through a process that involves rigorous screening by nominating commissions, followed by gubernatorial appointment, Judge Hanisee writes in an Albuquerque Journal column.

But some of these judges will not serve beyond 2014 under the state’s hybrid system, as political party committees pick judges candidates for the general election and some newly selected sitting judges are not among them, he notes. Read more

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Judicial Focus in Tennessee Shifts to Amendment 2

tn supreme ctNow that the contentious Tennessee Supreme Court retention election is over, the spotlight is moving to the Constitutional amendment on November’s ballot.

According to the Nashville Business Journal, opposing sides of the recent retention election battle are on the same team when it comes to Amendment 2 – they support it.

Read more

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Another Push Ahead to Change Kansas Court Selection Method?

KS-Supreme-Court-logo200Legislators interested in changing the way Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected seized on a court ruling that overturned death penalty sentences handed two brothers in a notorious quadruple killing (see Gavel Grab).

The ruling “will likely fuel another push by conservative Republicans to give the governor and legislators more say in how the justices are chosen,” the Associated Press reported.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Republican, said that when legislators return to work in January, judicial selection will “absolutely” be a topic given the court rulings last week. He said the rulings were not surprising.

“There will always be cries for the heads of judges when they make difficult and unpopular rulings,” said Rep. John Carmichael, a Democrat.  ”It’s an imperative that we have independent courts.” Read more

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Article Names Efforts to Revise Judicial Selection, ‘Stack Courts’

Groups in some states are working to cement policy gains by taking stances on the way judges are selected, reports an online publication devoted to sexual and reproductive health and justice issues. The article quotes Justice at Stake about special interests’ seeking to influence judicial elections.

“Anti-Choice Groups Seek to Stack State Courts,” declares the RH Reality Check headline. It spotlights efforts to dump merit selection of Kansas Supreme Court justices and give the governor direct appointive authority; and against replacing elections with merit selection of judges in Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

“Special interest groups of many stripes have known for years now that judicial elections can provide an opening for political influence and spending that they believe will advance their agendas,” said Laurie Kinney, JAS director of communications and public education. Read more

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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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