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Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category

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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New Oregon Poll: 80 Percent Believe Cash Could Influence Judges

Justice at Stake and Common Cause Oregon released a new poll today revealing that 80 percent of voters polled believe that contributions from individuals, attorneys, businesses and interest groups have either some or a great deal of influence on a judge’s decision involving one of those donors.

“It’s not that people are faulting judges,” said Kate Titus, Executive Director of Common Cause Oregon, noting that the poll also shows greater public confidence in judges than in the governor or state legislature. “But people recognize the problem of judges needing to take private money to run for office. Even the perception of influence weakens the judicial system.”

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Editorial Urges Judicial Selection Reform in Marion County, Indiana

There is need to revisit the way that judges are chosen in Marion County, Indiana’s largest county, because the current system leaves it to political party leaders to choose judges and it may violate the Code of Judicial Conduct, an Indianapolis Star editorial says.

The editorial came on the heels of an investigative report by the newspaper that asked whether payments of $12,000 to $14,000 to the county Republican and Democratic parties, asked of judicial candidates in advance of a May primary, could violate the ethics code (see Gavel Grab).

The editorial takes a stand in favor of a merit-based selection system when considering reforms:

“Of course, no system for selecting judges is perfect, and politics never can be removed fully when picking judges. But a merit selection system involving a nominating committee, favored by the American and Indiana bar associations, among others, offers the best chance for straining as much partisanship as possible from the process. At the least, the General Assembly needs to revisit the 2006 legislation that not only shuts the public out of making decisions on who serves as a judge but also limits competition for those crucial positions.”

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Minnesota Merit Selection Proposal Advances in State Senate

gavel_cash-300x202A proposed constitutional amendment to change the way judges are selected in Minnesota advanced out of a state Senate subcommittee after its supporters contended it would help avoid the kind of partisan, high-spending judicial elections seen in other states.

“You folks run on platforms,” former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson told legislators, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “A judge can’t run on a platform. That’s antithetical to what a judge does. A judge decides cases based on the law and fact in front of him or her.”

Added Sarah Walker, president of the Coalition for Impartial Justice,  ”All you have to do is look around the country …. to see that high-cost partisan elections are sweeping the country, and it’s not far off in Minnesota.” Read more

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JAS to Participate in TN ‘Judicial Selection at the Crossroads’ Panel

justice-scalesJustice at Stake will participate in a panel discussion at Vanderbilt Law School on March 21 entitled “Judicial Selection at the Crossroads: How Tennessee Picks its Judges.”

Debra Erenberg, JAS state affairs director, will moderate the panel. Its members will include Vanderbilt Law School Professor Alistair Newbern as chair, and four attorneys involved in the state’s debate over judicial selection: Margaret Behm, Charles K. Grant, Tom Lawless and state Rep. Michael G. Stewart.

According to the Vanderbilt University News, the panel will be convened as part of a two day conference on “Justice at Risk: Research Opportunities and Policy Alternatives Regarding State Judicial Selection.” The conference will examine the role of money in judicial elections. Sponsors will be the American Constitution Society, the American Judicature Society and Vanderbilt Law School; AJS is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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Editorial Applauds Death of Anti-Court Bills in Oklahoma

“[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.

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In Sauk Centre, MN, Concern About ‘Sham’ Judicial Elections

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.

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Commentary: MN Merit Foes Favor Ideology Over Best Judges

Former Gov. Quie

Former Gov. Quie

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

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Lobbying for ‘Impartial Justice Act’ Kicks Off in Minnesota

justice-scalesA 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.

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