Archive for the 'Merit Selection' Category
Stepping into a debate about Oklahoma’s merit selection process for choosing judges, Oklahoma Supreme Court Vice Chief Justice John Reif expressed his personal views about the Judicial Nominating Commission, a central part of the merit system.
“The JNC has served the people in this state very well and while it certainly deserves some attention and discussion, I can assure you that it is not broke,” he told the annual meeting of the Oklahoma Bar Association, according to a TulsaBusiness.com article.
He also said that retention (up-or-down) elections, another feature of the state’s merit selection system, provide accountability. “I think we can trust the people to have the power of retentions elections as a check on the judiciary,” he said. “It is something in my experience that has worked very well to serve the interest of both the people and justice.”
To learn about proposals to revise or eliminate merit selection in Oklahoma, see Gavel Grab for background.
As Pennsylvania considers a proposal to dump its system for picking top judges in partisan elections and replace it with merit selection, “Pennsylvania is sort of in everybody’s sights,” says a former Colorado Supreme Court justice.
Former Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis is executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, based in Denver. She told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that behind efforts to reform judicial selection methods lies eroding public trust in fair and impartial courts.
“It’s a function of the fact that the judiciary is now seen as political. Not so long ago, I think that most people believed that judges were not political actors, that they were trying to make decisions on the basis of the law and the facts,” Justice Kourlis said. Change came “because of some of the hot-button issues over the last couple of decades.”
Lynn Marks, head of the reform group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, told the newspaper, “We think Pennsylvanians deserve judges that are chosen based on their credentials, not because of political connections, or where they live, or how much money they raise … or where their name appears on the ballot.” 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
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
“Merit selection is a way to replace the current system of partisan election with one that provides for thoughtful, dispassionate analysis of a candidate’s credentials,” a Lancaster New Era editorial said. “[T]he benefits of merit selection are there for all Pennsylvanians to see, if they only take the time to look.”
For years, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts has advocated a shift from contested judicial elections in the state to a merit selection system, using a bipartisan screening panel, gubernatorial appointment and subsequent retention (up-or-down) elections. The editorial mentions the work of the group, which is a Justice at Stake partner organization.
To learn more about the new legislation, see this recent Gavel Grab post.
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.