Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category
At an hour when ethics reform is getting attention on the campaign trail, it is urgent for South Carolina to consider reforming the way most of its judges are selected, a Hilton Head Island Packet editorial contends.
South Carolina is one of only two states where state legislators appoint all judges from the state Supreme Court to the Family Court, and in South Carolina alone, state legislators are involved in both nominating and appointing judges, “a scenario ripe for favoritism and impropriety,” the editorial says.
“By the time a state judge ascends the bench in South Carolina, they’re beholden to lawmakers in ways that do not serve the public and work directly against the notion of judicial independence,” it asserts. Read more
“Texas needs judicial reform,” declares the headline for an Austin American-Statesman editorial condemning the state’s current system for picking judges. “[N]o system is as unfavorable to justice as the partisan election of judges,” the editorial asserts.
What’s wrong with partisan judicial elections? The editorial says:
“Campaigns are expensive, and judges must seek contributions to run for office. Naturally their major donors tend to be lawyers, businesses and corporations — people and entities that often appear in court before them. It is a system flush with potential conflicts of interest. Thus it also is a system that harms the public’s confidence in justice and judges alike.” Read more
Judges and the general public are wary of the money being poured into partisan judicial elections in Texas, ramping up talks of reform.
The Texas Tribune interviewed Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, and David Lyle, senior counsel for state advancement at the American Constitution Society, to discuss money in the courts.
“The fear [judges] have…is that what it means to elect a judge is changing under our feet. They’re forced to dial for dollars from people who then appear before them in court and in every controversial case, they have to look over their shoulder. … And there is a fear that the public believes that justice is for sale,” said Brandenburg. “Even more chilling … we’ve done polling that shows that nearly half of state judges agree with that statement, that campaigns and cash are affecting courtroom decisions.” (For more information on these polls click here.)
Lyle touched on the fact that a lot of the issues with money in judicial elections relate to business interests.
When advocates interested in changing the method for choosing Texas judges met recently in Austin, they heard from Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg (photo). The advocates are interested in forging a larger, stronger network to achieve change, and Brandenburg spoke of the dangers of partisan judicial elections and of potential reforms.
“We want judges to be accountable to the law and the Constitution, not to special interests and partisans. The money can flip that equation, and that’s the risk,” Brandenburg told the (Austin) American-Statesman.
According to the newspaper, candidates for the judiciary are required to run in partisan elections in Texas, and polls show that voters believe “Texas justice is being sold to the highest bidder.”
Brandenburg said, “If the system is so politicized that they have to be politicians first and judges second … you’ll have a lot of good people who say they’ll pass. Conversely, you start to encourage a category of people who view the judiciary as just another steppingstone to a political career.” Read more
The St. Cloud Times has published an editorial voicing strong support for a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way judges are selected in Minnesota. Its editorial came shortly after the Coalition for Impartial Justice held a session in St. Cloud to educate citizens about the proposal (see Gavel Grab). The editorial said in part:
“Given court rulings that allow even more big money into elections, it’s clear Minnesota needs to change to retention election of judges to prevent justice in this state from being defined by the judge whose supporters have the biggest wallets.
“Make no mistake. Those who oppose the Impartial Justice Act want just that. Why else would they fight a plan that protects your right to vote, helps you become more informed about candidates and still holds judges accountable?”
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 breadth of support for a proposed change to the way judges are selected in Minnesota is “amazing,” drawing on labor and industry sectors, the Chamber of Commerce, and large companies and small companies, a leading advocate for the change explained in a radio interview.
Former Chief Justice Eric Magnuson of the Minnesota Supreme Court has given a virtual primer about the way judges currently are chosen, and how the Impartial Justice Act would change that, in a KVSC interview that is available by podcast online.
The proposed constitutional amendment would combine merit selection of judges, retention (up-or-down) elections and nonpartisan evaluation of judges’ performance by an independent performance evaluation commission (see Gavel Grab).
Justice Magnuson said the amendment would provide voters with much more information about the qualifications of judges, and that it would help Minnesota avoid the experience of neighboring Wisconsin and some other states, where judges are chosen in high-spending, politicized and partisan elections.
“What happens when politics gets into judicial elections is the public loses confidence in the integrity of the judges,” Justice Magnuson warned. That hurts both the judicial system and people who use it, he said.
Minnesota voters have a big appetite for more information when they go to the polls to elect candidates, a leader of the Coalition for Impartial Justice told an audience in St. Cloud this week as part of a push for proposed merit-based selection of judges.
Currently in Minnesota, more than 90 percent of judges run without opposition and voters get little neutral information about them, according to the St. Cloud Times.
“Voters are tired of not having any real option on the ballot, but at the same time, if they do have someone running against (an incumbent), no one knows who any of these judges are, so they can’t make an informed decision,” said Sarah Walker. She is president of the board of directors for the Coalition. Read more
Two similar, recently approved petitions for ballot initiatives to revamp Missouri’s nationally recognized merit system for selecting judges pose a “serious threat,” according to Skip Walther, treasurer of Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts. While the Secretary of State approved the petitions for circulation, each would require more than 150,000 signatures to appear on the ballot in 2014.
“We’re taking this threat to the merit selection of judges very seriously,” Walther told the St. Louis Beacon. Its article was headlined, “New initiative petition proposals would require Supreme Court judges to run for office.” The proposals seek to replace the “Missouri Plan” of merit selection with popular election of judges, and they would expand the size of the state Supreme Court from seven to nine justices.
A recent News Tribune article said a poll commissioned by MFIC found that 58 percent of surveyed Missouri voters said they plan to vote against the proposal if it appears on the ballot, and 18 percent said they plan to vote yes. Eighty-five percent of voters, according to the 20/20 Insight poll, said they oppose allowing candidates for the bench to solicit campaign contributions.
The Tennessee Bar Association’s Board of Governors has voted its backing for a proposed constitutional amendment to adopt a revised system for choosing judges, including gubernatorial appointment subject to legislative confirmation. The board signaled that it voiced support due to Gov. Bill Haslam’s pledge to include merit selection in the process.
According to a Knoxville Daily Sun article, TBA President Cindy Wyrick said, ”The TBA will support the constitutional amendment because we have been assured that the Governor will implement a merit selection process to appoint qualified judges. We applaud Governor Haslam for his recent executive order, which demonstrates his continuing commitment to filling vacancies with qualified judges through use of a merit selection process.” Read more
A LehighValleyLive.com editorial supports a proposal for choosing Pennsylvania appellate judges through merit selection. The editorial notes that interest in switching from competitive elections to a merit selection process in Pennsylvania has recently been renewed, in part due to a push from state lawmakers and a non-profit group, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. PMC is a JAS partner group.
Judicial appointments will not do away with political influence entirely, the editorial says, but it emphasizes the contrast with electing judges:
“…[E]very round of judicial elections seems to bear out the pitfalls of electing judges whom voters know almost nothing about, and whose campaigns are bankrolled by special interests (lawyers, unions, business groups, etc.) that do business before the state Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme courts.”
The editorial goes on to discuss criminal violations by former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, as well as a mention of New Jersey’s system for appointing judges. You can read about newly introduced legislation for merit selection of judges in Pennsylvania by clicking here for Gavel Grab.