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Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category

Commentary: Yes on Amendment 2

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Amendment 2 “will establish a system for selecting judges that ensures that our appellate court judge or a Supreme Court justice will be independent, highly qualified and unbiased,” says Verna Wyatt, executive director of Tennessee Voices for Victims, in a commentary in The Daily Herald. (See Gavel Grab for background on Amendment 2.)

The amendment will reflect the federal judicial appointment system with both the executive and legislative branches having a hand in the process, but also include a retention election. According to the commentary, this creates a balance of a fair and independent judiciary that still remains accountable to the people.

Judges should be “held accountable to the people of Tennessee, not the best politicians who can raise the most money from special-interest groups,” the commentary says, “We don’t want our judges to be pressured to make rulings based on campaign contributions or politics.”

 

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Proposed Judicial Selection Change Debated in Tennessee

TennesseeA flurry of commentary about a judicial selection ballot measure in Tennessee is providing voters with differing points of view.

The proposed constitutional amendment, called Amendment 2, would change the way appellate judges are chosen. After the governor appoints a judge, legislative confirmation would be required if the amendment passes. When a judge seeks a new term, voters would decide whether to retain him or her.

“By voting yes on Amendment 2, we can show these special interest groups that in Tennessee, justice is not for sale,” attorney Bradford D. Box wrote in a Jackson Sun op-ed. He said the constitutional language would give Tennesseans “a strong voice in every step of the process.” Read more

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Amendment 2 Vote: Tweak to Judicial Selection, or ‘Radical Change’?

Nashville Public Radio offers one of the most compelling headlines so far in media reporting on proposed Amendment 2: “Tennessee Voters Choose Between Tweaking Judicial Selection Or Setting Stage For Radical Change.”

The proposed constitutional amendment would change the way appellate judges are selected in Tennessee by adding a requirement for legislative confirmation after the governor makes an appointment. A judge seeking a new term still would run in a retention (up-or-down) election. Read more

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Article: Business Community Strongly Favors Amendment 2

Screen-Shot-2014-10-09-at-5.32.42-PMProposed Amendment 2, changing the way appellate judges are selected in Tennessee, would help ensure a strong judiciary and the kind of stability that businesses seek, two leading advocates of the ballot measure said this week.

A blog of the Memphis Business Journal reported on the position staked out by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, and it went on to state, “The business community is overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment, arguing it will avoid costly contested judicial elections that could lead to partiality and unpredictability on the state’s highest courts.”

As debate continued over the proposal, an editorial in The Tennessean urged a no vote, contending that voters should signal that appellate judges “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.” Read more

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From High-Fundraising Judges, Split Views on Reform

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With thousands of dollars donated by lawyers and law firms to judicial candidates in Las Vegas (see Gavel Grab), what’s the impact on fair and impartial courts? Another report in a KLAS-TV series looks at that issue by interviewing “some of the biggest fundraisers of this election season about whether they can remain fair.”

“We don’t like to be in the business of trying to raise money, but obviously as long as we have the system in place, judges are to be elected, judges are going to have to run campaigns, which of course means, campaigns require money,” District Judge Susan Johnson told KLAS-TV. ”I would much rather do my job then be out there campaigning, so I would love to see a merit system, a retention system in place,” she added.

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Reform of Judicial Selection is Studied in Texas

Close to 60 different races will appear on some ballots in Texas on Election Day, reports News 4 San Antonio. Up for election will be justices from both state Supreme Courts, State District and County Judges, and Justices of the Peace, adding up to about 40 judicial contests. And every single race will be decided bytexas court a partisan election.

While 38 states hold some form of judicial election, Texas is one of the few where every judicial office is up for partisan election. The explicit partisanship of judicial elections in Texas results in political coattails that “can be very long and very strong,” News 4 notes.

Critics, among them judges and state lawmakers, have advocated for change. These critics, according to the report, contend that by electing judges, it “turns them into money-grubbing politicians beholden to their donors—who are often the same lawyers who appear in their courtrooms.”

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Record $2.4 Million Spent in Tennessee Retention Election

gavel-and-cash.125192919_stdThis summer’s hard-fought Tennessee Supreme Court retention election cost at least a record-breaking $2.4 million as three incumbent justices successfully fought off an ouster effort, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

The three justices, targeted in a Republican-led effort, spent $1.13 million. Tennesseans for Fair Courts spent $345,000 in backing the justices, the Tennessee Forum spent nearly $718,000 to remove them, and Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey “or at least special interests contributing to his leadership PAC” provided $605,000 toward the Tennessee Forum’s spending, the newspaper said. The Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee spent $196,865.

After the vote totals were counted in August, JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg warned, “Partisans and special interests opened their checkbooks to send a message of intimidation to courts not just in Tennessee, Read more

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Federal Judge: Party-Controlled Judicial Election Unconstitutional

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A federal judge has ruled Marion County Indiana’s unorthodox method of electing judges unconstitutional, reports the Indianapolis Star. The method has allowed the two major political parties to split the amount of judicial seats in half and nominate that exact number through primary elections. This means victory is “virtually assured” in the general election, according to the newspaper.

“You can’t protect the electorate from confusion by having a system where voting doesn’t make a difference,” said Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. The ruling was issued by Judge Richard Young of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Appellate Judge John Baker and former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm have both advocated for the legislature to adopt a merit selection system for the county, according to the article. Others have voiced concerns of the possibility of large campaign contributions and big spending if traditional elections were adopted.

“Now that we know [the system is] wrong, we have to come up with something that’s right,” Baker said.

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Journalist: ‘Stop Treating Judicial Candidates Like Baseball Cards’

In South Carolina, where judges are chosen by the legislature, there have been allegations of vote-trading tied to a state Supreme Court race. Reflecting on the allegations and a political scandal around the then-House Speaker, a journalist is calling for reform.

Cindi Ross Scoppe voices her concerns in an op-ed for the newspaper where she is an associate editor, The State. It is headlined, “Been there, done that: Vote-trading allegation in SC Supreme Court race has a familiar ring to it.” She traces some history around vote-trading for judges in the legislature and then fast-forwards to the present and suspended House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who was indicted last month on public corruption charges. Scoppe writes:

“[I]f we don’t want legislators to trade judicial candidates like baseball cards, we have to stop treating judicial candidates like baseball cards. That is, we have to stop letting the Legislature elect judges. Read more

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Consequences Weighed if Amendment 2 Fails in Tennessee

If a proposed constitutional amendment on judicial selection is defeated on Election Day, it likely would be followed by demands for the Tennessee legislature to adopt popular elections for judges and could mean uncertainty for the courts, supporters of the proposal say.

“If this amendment fails, we will be left in chaos in the Legislature,” said state Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to the Associated Press. There is bipartisan support for the amendment, including at the highest political levels; Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, and former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, have recorded a TV ad voicing their support. Read more

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