Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Merit Selection' Category

Crossfire in Commentaries Over Alaska Judicial Council

Alaska-quarterFrom an op-ed critical of the Alaska Judicial Council and a rebuttal by a council defender, you can learn about controversy over a nonpartisan entity established at Alaska’s statehood to evaluate judicial candidates within a merit-based selection system.

John Harmon, an Anchorage educator and a former Fortune 500 corporate attorney, wrote recently in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, “Alaska promotes its judicial system as ‘merit’ based, but the actions seen from the Council appear to be those of partisan politics.”

This week Barbara Hood, a retired attorney and a founding board member of Justice Not Politics Alaska, wrote a Valley Frontiersman reply asserting that the council is doing its job well. “In recent years, members of Alaska’s judiciary have come under attack by political groups with agendas,” she said. “Now the same special interest groups seek to reshape our justice system by targeting the council itself.” Read more

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Editorial: Weigh Reform of ‘Ugly’ WI Supreme Court Elections

630px-Seal_of_WisconsinOne of the latest local editorial boards to declare that there’s something hugely wrong with judicial elections works at the Beloit Daily News in Wisconsin.

When it published an editorial about reforms for the public to consider, the editorial board spotlighted merit selection of judges. Here is what the editorial said, under the headline “Do the people want to take charge?”

“APPOINT THE STATE’S top judges, identified and selected by a merit commission, rather than electing them. The ugly Wisconsin Supreme Court elections — dominated by partisan interests and tainted by big money — have become an embarrassment, and worse. Decisions of law are colored by partisan politics, over time eroding the people’s trust in the judicial branch. Without a doubt, people want the courts to be a fair referee, not just another partisan branch of government.” Read more

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On 40th Anniversary, a Salute to Merit Selection in Arizona

1280px-Flag_of_Arizona.svgArizona marks the 40th anniversary this year of its adoption of merit selection for choosing appellate judges and Superior Court judges in its largest counties. In an Arizona Republic op-ed, Chief Justice Scott Bales says the system has “allowed Arizona’s judiciary to earn a national reputation for fairness, efficiency and innovation.”

The Chief Justice’s op-ed is largely explanatory about how merit selection works to seat well-qualified judges, and about the Judicial Performance Review system, established by voters in 1992, to which all merit-selected judges are subject. Justice Bales also writes of  high regard nationally and in the state for Arizona’s system: Read more

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New Report Examines Judicial Nominating Commissions in U.S.

logo_squareThe Denver-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and its Quality Judges Initiative have released a new report on the judicial nominating commissions used to select supreme court justices in 30 states.

The report is entitled Choosing Judges: Judicial Nominating Commissions and the Selection of Supreme Court Justices. The report states in its conclusion: Read more

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In Arkansas, a Call to Weigh Shift to Merit Selection

justice-scalesIs a new debate ahead in Arkansas over the best way to select impartial judges?

The issue has been percolating lately (see Gavel Grab), and now Roy Ockert, editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun, has written a CourierNews.com op-ed urging consideration of a shift from nonpartisan elections to the “Missouri Plan” of merit selection.

In Arkansas, Ockert writes, “we the people are still electing our judges, but the process is becoming corrupted.” He says the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the door for special interest groups to raise large sums and then target and sometimes smear judicial candidates, who are limited by ethics restrictions in their ability to respond. Read more

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Tennessee Justice Campaigns for Merit Selection Amendment

Newly-appointed Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeff Bivins is campaigning for a Tennessee ballot initiative that would maintain the merit selection of appellate judges, The Republic reports.

The current system, in which the Governor appoints judges from a panel approved by a Judicial Nominating Commission, has been criticized for not providing for enough public input. However, some critics contend that this provision is unconstitutional under the Tennessee State Constitution, which says that justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.” Judges currently face periodic up-or-down retention elections.

The amendment that Justice Bivins is campaigning for would preserve the current system but also enable the input of the state legislature on issues concerning judicial appointments.

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Letter Argues for Merit Selection System in PA

justice-scalesA Letter to the Editor of Triblive by Lynn A. Marks and Suzanne Almeida published yesterday argues that Pennsylvania’s system of judicial elections ought to be replaced with a system involving merit selection.

The letter’s authors, who are involved with Justice at Stake’s partner organization Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, write, “The requirement in the revised Code of Judicial Conduct that judges disqualify themselves from hearing cases involving large donors makes good sense. But it can’t address the underlying problems with selecting judges through expensive, partisan elections. An overhaul of the way we choose our statewide judges is needed.”

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Arkansas Attorney General: Electing Judges is a Mistake

arkansas_flag_web_fc1aArkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said this week that he believes electing state judges is a mistake and that Arkansas should consider shifting to a method like Missouri’s, combining an appointive process and retention (up-or-down) elections when judges seek a new term.

The Associated Press reported McDaniel’s remarks in an article that was headlined, “Couples ask justices to recuse in marriage case.” Some couples challenging an Arkansas ban on marriage of same-sex couples have requested that any Arkansas Supreme Court justices who intend to run for re-election step aside from hearing an appeal in matter. The plaintiffs say legislators have employed “intimidation tactics” to influence the outcome of an appeal before the high court.

In June, the Arkansas Legislative Council approved a resolution declaring that state Judge Chris Piazza had “overstepped his judicial authority” and that urged the state Supreme Court to reverse his ruling (see Gavel Grab). Judge Piazza had struck down a state ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Read more

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Editorial Praises Open Process for Vetting Kansas Court Applicants

KansasAs Gov. Sam Brownback prepares to make his first pick for the Kansas Supreme Court, there is media commentary comparing the open selection process with a more secretive process for selecting Court of Appeals judges.

An editorial in the Lawrence Journal-World commends the first open-to-the-public interviews of state Supreme Court applicants, to be held soon by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission.

“Public interviews, along with public votes on whether to retain justices on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, offer Kansans good opportunities to observe, evaluate and, if needed, reject judges who don’t measure up,” the editorial states. “The transparent process for interviewing applicants for the Supreme Court further supports the merit selection of judges over the closed, more political system now in place for the Court of Appeals.” Read more

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O’Connor Enjoys a ‘Bully Pulpit’ Advocating Judicial Selection Reform

justice

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s advocacy, to replace state judicial elections with an appointive system using bipartisan screening commissions, continues to grab newspaper headlines.

The N.Y. Daily News reported, “Sandra Day O’Connor decries letting ‘cash in the court’ with judicial elections: The retired U.S. Supreme Court justice is lending her voice to the Quality Judges Initiative, which advocates for the use of nominating commissions to replace elections for judges.”

The article said, “Sandra Day O’Connor may have left the bench but she still has a bully pulpit.”

You can read more from Gavel Grab about Justice O’Connor’s recently released Judicial Selection Plan, developed in conjunction with the Denver-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. Justice O’Connor also serves as Justice at Stake’s Honorary Chair.

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