Archive for the 'Merit Selection' Category
Judicial elections in Minnesota are a “sham” today, and “it may be worth it for Minnesota voters to have a discussion on the topic this fall,” Tom West, editor of the Sauk Centre Dairyland Peach, writes in an opinion column for the paper.
Sauk Centre had a population of more than 4,000 in the last census, and West offers a style that is more biting and folksy than much other discussion of a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way judges are selected in Minnesota (see Gavel Grab for background about the merit-selection proposal).
He recalls the time more than three decades ago when a judge in Fillmore County had an affair with his secretary, presided over a portion of the divorce proceedings between her and her husband, was censured, and was re-elected. Local voters opposed the judge’s re-election but voters further away in the district did not know of the episode, West writes. It’s evidence that Minnesota’s current system for electing judges needs to be changed, he adds.
Eyeing a proposal to change the way Minnesota judges are selected, a Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial writer says the proposal’s foes are driven by ideology, not by a desire to choose the most qualified judges.
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 bipartisan Coalition for Impartial Justice is pushing for its adoption. In the newspaper essay, Lori Sturdevant criticizes the measure’s foes, who wish to preserve contested judicial elections:
“The anti-retention crowd favors more high-profile, wedge-issue, big-money battles between sitting judges and challengers of their choosing. They want to dump judges they dislike and replace them with their own ilk.”
Among prominent advocates for the Impartial Justice Act is former Gov. Al Quie, a Republican. “The goal is to improve the chances that justice Read more
A bipartisan group called the Coalition for Impartial Justice kicked off its public lobbying effort at Minnesota’s capitol on Wednesday to push for a change in the way state judges are chosen.
Some neighboring states have experienced high-spending judicial elections marked by partisanship, and the Minnesota reformers are seeking to head off such developments by winning passage of a proposed constitutional amendment. It 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 judicial system works because people trust it and they don’t think it is bought and paid for,” said former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune article. An appointee of then-GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Justice Magnuson is a prominent advocate for the amendment, called the Impartial Justice Act.
District Court Judge Thomas McCarthy of Sibley County, Minnesota says he’s retiring early in order to let the governor, instead of voters, choose his successor — because the appointive process is more likely to seat more qualified jurists, he says.
Judge McCarthy shares his frank opinion in a Star Tribune column. He strongly approves of the thorough process undertaken by the Judicial Selection Committee to vet applicants for a judgeship and make recommendations to the governor for a mid-term vacancy, and he’s more skeptical that a contested election will result in selection of the best candidate:
“It may be claimed that an educated electorate can be just as effective of an arbiter of these qualifications as the Selection Committee. In a perfect world, that would be true. However, I have been in other states during campaign seasons, and have seen and heard television, radio and newspaper advertisements on behalf of judicial candidates. At best, they give a brief sketch Read more
A proposed amendment to the Alaska constitution, sponsored by a group of Republican senators, would revamp membership of the Alaska Judicial Council and effectively give control of the panel to the governor.
The council serves dual roles, as both a judicial nominating commission and a judicial performance evaluation board, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The proposed amendment would expand the council’s membership from seven to 16 including 10 members appointed by the governor, subject to legislative confirmation; five appointed by the state Bar; and also the sitting Chief Justice. Currently the seven members include the Chief Justice, three attorney members appointed by the Bar and three non-attorney members appointed by the governor subject to legislative confirmation.
An Alaska Public Media report said the council has become something of a “lightning rod” because of its influence over whom the governor appoints to the bench.
Cille King and David Burress, co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Douglas County in Kansas, are voicing strong concerns about Gov. Sam Brownback’s interest in dismantling a 60-year-old merit selection process for picking Kansas Supreme Court justices. They write their views in a letter to the editor of the Lawrence Journal-World.
Last year, following a three-year study, the League of Women Voters-Kansas said the existing merit selection system provides the best foundation for choosing judges independent of politics, their letter says. It continues:
“Brownback would have us step back 60 years and select justices as the U.S. Government does — a system so gridlocked that there are 100 vacancies in the federal court system. Only one other state, New Jersey, selects its justices in this manner, and Gov. [Chris] Christie has similar gridlock. While our governor rejects most federal government policies, judicial selection is clearly the wrong one to adopt.” Read more
Amid increasing efforts to politicize fair and impartial courts, the National Association of Women Judges has launched the Informed Voters Project in advance of the 2014 elections, to combat what the JAS partner organization calls an “unprecedented threat” facing state courts.
The project is intended “to help voters understand why it’s important to elect qualified judges who will follow the law rather than submit to special interest or partisan pressures,” Justice Joan Irion of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal told ABA Journal. Justice at Stake is a partner in the Informed Voters Project.
ABA Journal has a lengthy article entitled, “Governors battle to shape the judiciary without merit selection.” It focuses heavily on Florida, where the article says Gov. Rick Scott has rejected numerous state bar recommendations of attorneys to sit on judicial vetting commissions, as Scott works to put like-minded conservatives on the panels (for background, see Gavel Grab).
The article also mentions other past and possible future efforts to politicize impartial Read more
How many ways are there for Kansas legislators to target impartial state judges?
With tensions running high between some legislators and state courts, a number of court-bashing proposals already have been floated, and Gavel Grab has mentioned them: lowering the mandated retirement age; ending the Supreme Court’s review of criminal cases; and eliminating merit selection of Supreme Court justices, to give the governor direct appointment power. This week, still another idea was unveiled in legislation sponsored by the House Judiciary Committee: to allow judges — including justices on the Supreme Court — to be subject to recall elections.
The legislation was reported by Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. It said that since 1974, Kansas judges have been exempted from a constitutional amendment that provides for recall elections for “[e]very public officer holding either by election or appointment.” Read more
The anti-abortion group Kansans for Life says it will make it a legislative priority to dismantle the merit selection system for choosing state Supreme Court justices and replace it with more direct control by the governor.
Kansans for Life lobbyist Kathy Ostrowski said in remarks before a rally on Wednesday that the group favors a Supreme Court selection system similar to the federal model, in which the governor would appoint justices subject to state Senate confirmation, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Kansas Chief Justice Lawton Nuss defended the existing system when talking to reporters on Wednesday. “I still prefer our present method, which does not allow for special-interest groups to have any impact on the selection of people who eventually become judges,” he said. Read more
In a piece published in the National Law Journal, former Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court Marsha Ternus looks to her own experiences to make a case against politicized justice systems. She also cites spending data from “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-2012,” co-authored by Justice at Stake, to underscore her point that an ongoing “effort to politicize impartial courts is not receding.”
Ternus writes that she was among three justices of the Iowa high court who were ousted in a retention (yes-or-no) election following the court’s ruling that marriages for same-sex couples were permissible under the state constitution. She and her colleagues were targeted for defeat by a well-financed coalition that included a significant cadre of out-of-state activists. “Public debate about the merits of court decisions is a healthy aspect of a democratic society,” she notes, “yet the unprecedented Iowa ouster campaign delivered a message of intimidation and retaliation.”
She maintains that when political ideology becomes a driving force in the selection of judges, as it does in judicial elections, courts become “mini-legislatures composed of judges with preordained views who believe their opinions must be represented.” Her piece makes the case that in this situation, collegial decision-making becomes all but impossible. Read more