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Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category

Editorial Decries Notion of ‘Justice for Sale, Inquire Within’

“It’s getting to the point that courthouses where elected justices work may as well start posting signs, ‘Justice for sale, inquire within.'”

JusticeForSaleThat’s the lament of a Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News editorial reflecting on a recent pornographic email scandal that swept up Justice Seamus McCaffery, leading to his suspension and then retirement, and also urging adoption of merit selection of top state judges.

“Judicial elections are getting more expensive and more partisan at the expense of [a judge's] qualifications,” Suzanne Almeida of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, which advocates for a switch to merit selection, told the editorial board. PMC is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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JAS Sees ‘Best Compromise Solution’ in Tennessee Ballot Measure

TennesseeWith voters in several states weighing judicial selection system changes on Election Day, a National Law Journal article explains the proposals and quotes Justice at Stake about a ballot measure in Tennessee.

The proposed constitutional amendment, called Amendment 2, would change the way Tennessee’s 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.

JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told National Law Journal that the proposal is “an attempt to really cut through a gordian knot the state has been grappling with for a while. The best compromise solution that was put together by both sides was to have what’s on the ballot now.” (The article is available through Google). Read more

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Editorial: End PA ‘Embarrassment,’ Adopt Merit Selection

justice-scalesAn email scandal that has resulted in the suspension of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery (see Gavel Grab) “should be the straw that breaks the back of the antiquated judicial election system,” declares an editorial in The Sentinel.

The editorial calls for a switch to merit-based selection of judges, which long has been advocated by reformists yet never adopted by the legislature.

“Integrity, character and trust are essential to public faith in the court system. It’s time for the Legislature to heed the calls for reform and adopt merit selection of the state’s appellate judges. Let’s end the embarrassment,” the editorial says.

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Commentary: Suspended Judge a 'Poster Boy' for Reform

“When are we going to reform the stupid way we choose these people?” That’s the question Allentown Morning Call columnist Bill White asks after an email scandal led to the suspension of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice.

White labels recently suspended Justice Seamus McCaffery (see Gavel Grab) “the judicial system’s Prince of Porn” and he also notes the conviction on public corruption charges in 2013 of an ex-justice, Joan Orie Melvin. White urges a shift to a merit selection system for choosing judges, saying that “with merit selection, we at least can ensure that the men and women we’re choosing are qualified and unbought.”

Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, which has worked to advance merit selection legislation, told White, “Judges should be selected based on their record of personal integrity and temperament and qualifications, not on whether they’re good campaigners, good fundraisers or have a good ballot position.” White’s column is headlined, “McCaffery is new poster boy for merit selection.” Read more

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Commentary: Yes on Amendment 2


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


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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