Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category
Alabama’s legal system is overrun by politics, and it would help boost the economy and job creation to reduce politics in the courtroom by replacing partisan judicial elections with merit selection of judges, an assistant economics professor says.
John A. Dove of Troy University in Troy, Alabama outlines his ideas in a new study and in a Montgomery Advertiser op-ed. He writes, “Replacing partisan election of judges with merit selection will promote a predictable, fair legal system. This less biased legal environment will have a tremendous impact on supporting business growth, progress and development, translating into jobs, opportunity and prosperity for more Alabamians.” Read more
Ohio’s Chief Justice has sparked a renewed debate over the best way to choose qualified judges (see Gavel Grab). One prominent advocate for a switch from contested elections to an appointive-and-retention election system is the League of Women Voters of Ohio, a Justice at Stake partner organization.
“The League of Women Voters of Ohio has for years believed that the problem is that the kind of elections which work for politicians don’t work well for the judiciary,” LWV Ohio President Nancy Brown writes in a Cleveland Plain Dealer op-ed.
“Judges are different. Judges are not politicians in robes who promise to decide cases in a particular way who should be thrown out of office if they don’t keep their promises. Rather, judges are required to apply the law, regardless of their personal beliefs.” Read more
A Frederick (Md.) News Post editorial says about electing judges: “Ask yourself this: Would you want heart surgery from a doctor who was elected by popular vote?”
Following a “dramatic” surprise in a Frederick County Circuit Court race, the editorial asserts that it’s time to reconsider the way such judges are picked in Maryland. A nonpartisan commission screens qualified candidates and gives recommendations to the governor, who makes an appointment. Circuit judges seek a new term by running in a nonpartisan, contested election. Read more
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, remarking on a high number of uncontested judicial elections in the state this year, says Ohio ought to consider appointing judges rather than electing them.
Justice O’Connor has discussed reform in the past (see Gavel Grab) although her proposals have not resulted in action by the legislature. She recently expressed her concerns in an interview with the Associated Press, which summed up her thinking this way:
“The goal is to take politics out of judicial campaigns, O’Connor said. She favors a system where the governor would appoint judges based on recommendations from a screening committee, with voters casting ballots in retention elections two years later to decide whether the judges should keep their jobs.
“That plan would ‘still allow the voters to weigh in, but you would be judging the candidate on their record, what have they done for the two years during the interim,’ O’Connor said. ‘That preserves the best of both worlds.'”
Could a lawsuit challenging passage last week in Tennessee of Amendment 1, stating that nothing in the Tennessee Constitution establishes a right to abortion, ultimately affect the passage of such other amendments as one changing the way appellate judges are selected?
The challenge contests the way votes were counted on Amendment 1. Secretary of State Tre Hargett, a defendant in the lawsuit, said it is “without merit,” according to a Knoxville News Sentinel blog. Hargett also said the lawsuit “calls into question all the amendments (ratified last week and since 1953) because it’s how the votes have been counted … for quite some time.” Read more
Record overall spending of $5.2 million in the recent elections for four seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court is making waves, with some advocates calling for reform and with Justice at Stake lamenting the elimination of public financing of judicial campaigns.
A High Point (N.C.) Enterprise article quoted JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg as saying, “For years, public financing of judicial elections meant that North Carolina judges could talk to voters, not donors who appear before them in courts.” He added, “Now the clock has been turned back to the days when judges had to raise money like politicians.”
“We’ve just witnessed the most expensive judicial elections in North Carolina’s history and the first in a decade without judicial public financing,” said Melissa Price Kromm, director of N.C. Voters for Clean Elections. “Something has to change. We must protect our fair and impartial courts.” Read more
In several states that have recently held judicial elections or that will hold them next year, there is talk of changing the way judges are selected:
- After controversy in Kansas over a state Supreme Court ruling that set aside death penalties for two brothers, state legislators may be ready to give the governor more control over appointments of high court justices, Kansas.com reported. Two justices who voted to vacate the death penalties faced an ouster drive but won retention on Election Day.
- Some people are talking about the possibility of Cole County, Missouri switching from judicial elections for lower court judges to a merit-selection system after a national political organization pumped a six-figure sum into this month’s election, the Jefferson City News Tribune reported.
- “Voters will have chance to remake Pa. high court” next year, the Associated Press reported. “Misconduct in PA’s highest court leads to calls for reform,” stated a headline for JudgesonMerit.org, sponsored by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a JAS partner organization.
Using an executive order, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has created an 11-member Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments. His action came in the same week that voters approved a constitutional amendment to change the way appellate judges are chosen (see Gavel Grab).
The governor will appoint members of the Council, according to a Tennessean article. The Council will screen candidates for appellate judgeships and recommend three candidates to the governor for a vacancy, with the governor choosing one from the list or requiring the Council to submit another list of three names.
After the governor appoints a judge, his or her nomination will be subject to legislative confirmation, as a result of the new constitutional amendment. The amendment writes into the state constitution an appointive-and-retention election process for choosing appellate judges.
Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch are jointly urging a “yes” vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way Tennessee’s appellate judges are chosen.
“Passing Amendment 2 will bring clarity and certainty to the way we choose the 29 appellate court judges, including the five Supreme Court justices who serve statewide in Tennessee,” they wrote in a Tennessean op-ed.
“But if we fail to pass Amendment 2, it will likely open up these judges to partisan statewide elections that will seriously undermine the integrity, impartiality and independence of our appellate courts.” Gonzales is dean of the Belmont University College of Law in Nashville. Read more
“It’s getting to the point that courthouses where elected justices work may as well start posting signs, ‘Justice for sale, inquire within.'”
That’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