Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Merit Selection' Category

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


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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New Group Urges ‘No’ Vote on Judicial Selection Amendment

TennesseeA group announced in Tennessee on Tuesday it will work to defeat  a proposed constitutional amendment to help preserve an appointive process for selecting appellate state judges.

Supporters of the effort urging citizens to vote “No” on Amendment 2 argued that the proposal tramples on a requirement in the constitution to elect appellate judges, The Tennessean reported. However, a version of the state’s current merit selection system has withstood court challenges. The current system includes a judicial screening panel and gubernatorial appointment of judges combined with retention (up-or-down) elections when a judge seeks a new term. Read more

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Barron’s Essay: ‘Give Judges Gavels; Take Away Their Tin Cups’

Sales-Tax-money-gavel“The Price of Justice” has become threatening in state judicial elections, Skip Kaltenheuser writes in a Barron’s commentary bearing that title and citing data from Justice at Stake. He urges, “Give judges gavels; take away their tin cups.”

The Barron’s piece offers a thumbnail factual history of the soaring costs of judicial elections and the increasing role of special interests, mixed with strong opinion.  The Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision “threatens the integrity of state courts,” Kaltenheuser writes, drawing on “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12.

The report was co-authored by JAS and two partner organizations. Not only did independent spending on judicial elections rise sharply in that election cycle over the pre-Citizens United record; “Television ads backing candidates for high courts took a huge leap—over a quarter funded by special interests, much of it attack ads involving hot button issues and wild distortions of controversial rulings,” the commentary notes. Read more

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The Tennessean: ‘Can Justice be Tainted by Money?’

gavel_cash-300x202In November, Tennessee voters will weigh a proposed constitutional amendment to help preserve an appointive process for selecting appellate Tennessee judges. On Sunday, a leading state newspaper, The Tennessean, said it will look in upcoming weeks at states with judicial elections and states with appointment systems, to answer the question: “Can justice be tainted by money?”

When lawyers donate to judicial campaigns and then appear later before the judge, it can cause a problem, the Tennessean article noted in spotlighting one of the most common issues associated with electing judges.

“People who spend that kind of money tend to want something for the effort,” politics and government editor Scott Stroud wrote. He pointed to a recent example in Davidson County.  There is controversy about a judge’s deciding in an assault case to provide early release for a defendant whose attorney, Bryan Lewis, was good friends with the judge and had donated to his campaign. The defendant allegedly attacked his victim a second time soon afterward. Read more

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Use Merit Selection to Pick Judges Statewide, Indiana Editorial Says

Indiana_quarter,_reverse_side,_2002As Indiana’s Judicial Nominating Commission prepares to select a new Chief Justice for the state Supreme Court, a Times of Northwest Indiana editorial calls for using the same merit selection process to choose all state judges:

“The merit selection process means judges don’t have to raise money for elections, a process that can create questions about conflicts of interest in subsequent legal actions.

“Judges chosen by merit selection are put up for retention votes, so the voters get a chance to remove ineffective judges from office. Make merit selection the standard procedure for all of Indiana’s judges.” Read more

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Merit Selection Set Back, PMC Looks to Next Session

justice-scalesA key Pennsylvania House committee scuttled plans to vote on Tuesday on a proposal for the merit selection of statewide judges. A group advocating for the plan said the panel will not consider it “this session,” and the group will continue to seek common ground for reform.

“Although we’re disappointed that the House Judiciary Committee will not consider commonsense solutions, this session, to getting the most qualified judges on the bench and removing money from the process, we are committed to continuing this important public conversation,” Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts said in a statement. The group is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

“While we weren’t successful this session, it’s important to keep fighting for change because Pennsylvanians deserve to have confidence that when they go to court, they will be heard by the most qualified, fair and impartial judges. We look forward to sitting down with those who oppose the bill to see if we can’t find some common ground to getting judges out of the fundraising business and off the campaign trail.” Read more

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Bar Leader Urges a Look at Merit Selection in Arkansas

arkansas_flag_web_fc1aOnly weeks after a Arkansas Supreme Court election that saw outside spending surge (see Gavel Grab), Brian Ratcliff, incoming president of the Arkansas Bar Association, warns that action is needed to preserve impartial state courts.

“Arkansas must work to preserve its judicial independence or glove up for the constant battle of the branches that will divide our state as we have never seen before,” Ratcliff writes in an Arkansas Business commentary. He suggests consideration of these potential reforms:

  • Reinstate the teaching of civics so young people learn about the checks and balances established in the three branches of government;
  • Consider adopting recusal standards for judges at the circuit and appellate court levels; Read more
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State House Panel to Consider Merit Selection in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania_quarter,_reverse_side,_1999Pennsylvania’s House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider early next week a bill for the merit selection of statewide judges. The bill preserves the role of a judge as an objective decision-maker and should be advanced by the committee, urges the Judges On Merit blog.

The blog is sponsored by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization, and PMCAction.

“When the public sees judges campaigning and fundraising to win a seat on the bench, it takes away from their view of the judge as an objective decision-maker, and instead gives the impression that judges are the same as other politicians,” the blog says. Read more

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Utah Judge’s Law Day Essay: The Importance of Merit Selection

Utah Chief Justice Durrant

Utah Chief Justice Durrant

Today is Law Day, and this year’s theme is “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters.” In a Salt Lake Tribune op-ed for Law Day, Utah Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant explains how merit selection of judges works in Utah and why it is important.

While most of Chief Justice Durrant’s op-ed is explanatory, he introduces it by discussing the link between the Law Day theme and Utah’s judiciary:

“[E]ach voting cycle provides Utahns the opportunity to vote to retain their judges. You may notice that I used the word ‘retain’ instead of ‘elect.’ That is because in Utah judges do not participate in partisan, contested elections, nor do they campaign to raise money, unlike judges in many states who spend millions of dollars to get elected. Utah’s retention elections are designed to ensure that judges make decisions based on the rule of law and not based on campaign contributions.” Read more

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Bipartisan Leaders Kick Off Tennessee Judicial Selection Campaign

Former Sen. Thompson

Former Sen. Thompson

Bipartisan leaders kicked off this week an initiative to build voter support for a proposed constitutional amendment to help preserve an appointive process for selecting appellate Tennessee judges.

“The way we choose our judges — the importance of our judges having the confidence of our people — is the fundamental bedrock of any government,” said former Republican U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson. “If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything else.” He joined Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, and former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, at the kick-off event, The Tennessean reported.

In a Tennessean op-ed, Thompson and Bredesen wrote, “Passing Amendment #2 will not only bring clarity and certainty to the way Tennesseans choose our Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges, but it also will add new accountability and a stronger voice for Tennessee voters in the selection process.” Failure to pass the amendment, they added, “could lead to out-of-state special interest groups trying to buy our courts and influence the selection of our judges.” Read more

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