When Missouri voters go to the polls in November, they should oppose changing the state’s nationally recognized merit selection plan for choosing judges, an editorial in the (Springfield, Mo.) News-Leader urges.
Defenders of the merit selection plan contend that the changes contained in a proposed constitutional amendment would destroy the system, while supporters of the proposed revisions portray them as a modest tweaking of the system (see Gavel Grab).
Under the proposal, the governor would get more influence over choosing members of a judicial nominating commission that screens candidates for the state Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals. In addition, a state Supreme Court judge would be removed from a voting position on the commission. Read more
Jack Panella (left), a Pennsylvania high court candidate, promoted the merit selection system of electing judges this week at a press club meeting in Harrisburg.
When explaining his desire to move away from the current system of electing judges, he pointed out the need to eliminate fund raising and political bosses in the selection process. He also specifically praised Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake Partner that advocates for the implementation of merit selection.
The merit selection system involves a nominating commission comprised of citizens that submits candidates to the governor for appointment. The concept also includes nonpartisan retention elections for judges following an initial term to give the public a voice on whether officials deserve to remain in office.
For more information on Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, you can check out PMConline. You also can read more about Panella’s support for merit selection reading this commentary at “Choose Judges on Merit,” the PMC blog.
A business attorney from Minnesota published a letter in the Wall Street Journal today, replyng to the Journal’s most recent attack on merit selection of judges:
I write in response to your recent editorial “State Courts in the Balance” (Oct. 30) dealing with state judicial elections and the noxious influence the trial lawyers have had in getting left-leaning and plaintiff-oriented judges elected or appointed to high judicial positions. I’ve been a trial lawyer for 35 years with 90% of my career given over to the defense of corporations and insurance companies in civil litigation.
Your longstanding habit of tarring all “trial lawyers” with the same brush is unfair and misleading. Read more
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a non-profit dedicated to “ensur[ing] that Pennsylvania has fair and impartial courts that serve all Pennsylvanians,” and ardent supporters of merit selection, added another group to their list of support for merit selection in Pennsylvania.
PMC announced, via their blog, Choose Judges on Merit, that the Pennsylvania Council of Churches has decided to publicly announce their support for the proposal to select Pennsylvania appellate judges by merit selection.
This statement of support can be added to the testimony of numerous other groups and organizations like The Pennsylvania Bar Association, Common Cause Pennsylvania, and the American Judicature Society.
The Urban League of Philadelphia also has issued written testiony to the state Senate Judiciary Committee supporting merit selection of Pennsylvania Appellate court judges. The Urban League said a merit system would foster greater diversity on the bench.
There are bills pending in the Pennsylvania legislature that would “replace the current process of electing appellate court judges with a new process that combines elements of elective and appointive systems: using a nomination process with a retention election component, and adding the unique element of an independent nominating commission to evaluate candidates and recommend the most qualified for possible nomination.”
Missouri Republican gubernatorial candidate, Congressman Kenny Hulshof, has announced that while he continues to favor merit selection for state judges (as Gavel Grab previously noted), he’d like to see some changes in the process.
Currently, a panel made up of three lawyers elected by the Missouri State Bar, three citizens appointed by the governor, and the local presiding appellate judge submits a slate of three names to the governor for selection.
According to an Associated Press article, Congressman Hulshof called for numerous changes, including:
- Replacing the lawyers with randomly selected state judges.
- Replacing the current presiding judge with a randomly selected former state Supreme Court Justice.
- Sending the governor five nominees for the bench instead of three, and allowing the governor to choose his or her own nominee after rejecting two slates submitted by a review commission.
Hulshof’s comments also are discussed in the Kansas City Star’s Prime Buzz column.
In his remarks, Congressman Hulshof complained that “the nonpartisan plan has become partisan,” tilting toward Democratic jurists favored by plaintiff’s lawyers, but in the Kansas City Star’s Prime Buzz column, former Republican governor John Ashcroft’s chief of staff flatly disagreed.
Congressman Hulshof’s Democratic opponent, Attorney General Jay Nixon, wants to retain the current selection procedure. Any change would require a constitutional amendment, and an attempt by Republican lawmakers to scrap the system failed in the last legislative session.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has joined in the call to choose Pennsylvania’s appellate judges through a merit selection and retention elections. Saturday’s editorial is the latest follow-up to a hearing last week before the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee, proposing the switch from competitive elections. It concludes by saying:
“What citizens already have decided about judicial elections is that they’re confusing at best, with legal qualifications playing a minimal role in who wins. At their worst, judicial elections are tainted by what Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille calls the ‘corrosive effect of money.’ An appointed judiciary with voter oversight is the remedy.”
On Friday, Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, filed the following written testimony to the Senate committee.
In St. Joseph County, Indiana, Superior Court judges may have to face performance evaluations done by the St. Joseph County Bar Association, according to the South Bend Tribune. Currently the Indiana county uses a merit selection process followed by a retention election six years later.
The article points out what the judicial evaluation plan may cover:
After years of reluctance to judge the judges, the St. Joseph County Bar Association has found a way to evaluate performance that will utilize the combined experience of its 500 member attorneys and assure confidentiality. The lawyers are being asked to score the Superior judges on a wide range of job performance topics — such matters as efficiency, knowledge of the law and courtroom demeanor.
To learn more about Judicial Performance Evaluations systems, visit this page at the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.
Leaders of Pennsylvanians for Moderns Courts testified Tuesday before the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee in Harrisburg, urging legislation to choose Pennsylvania’s appellate judges through a process of merit selection and retention elections.
For a full account of yesterday’s testimony, see PMC’s posting on its Judges on Merit blog. PMC’s Web site also offers specifics about the proposed legislation. One especially interesting feature is the makeup of the nominating commissions, which would assure that a broad cross-section of the public takes part. As is generally the case with merit selection systems, all judges would periodically face voters, to decide whether they would remain on the bench.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has made it clear that judicial selection reform is a priority in Pennsylvania for appellate judges, as evidenced by the commission he put together last spring to look at the possibility of merit selection. Now Gov. Rendell has a new supporter in his fight for merit selection, Chief Justice Ronald Castille (photo at right). In a television interview with WTAE-4 in Pittsburgh, Chief Justice Castille gave his reason for the need to change:
The feeling is out there because of the money that goes around in an elective position like mine that somebody is not gonna get a fair shake. That’s not the way it should be…Those things do erode citizens’ confidence in justice.
Chief Justice Castille later mentioned that money in judicial elections:
Yeah, I would do that just to get the corrosive effect of money out of the election process…. The citizens ought to believe they’re going to get justice no matter who is on the other side, or no matter who in our particular election process, no matter who supported what justice.
The full interview is here.
Note: The Justice at Stake Campaign does not take a position on merit selection or any type of judicial selection system.
Merit selection will be on the November ballot in Greene County, Missouri, according to an article in the Springfield News-Leader.
If Question 1 is approved, Greene County would adopt the Missouri Plan, which is already in place for trial judges in St. Louis and some other parts of Missouri. Missouri’s secretary of state certified the initiative after a grass-roots organization, Greene Countians for Fair and Impartial Judges, obtained well over the required 12,000 signatures.
Under the plan, a committee of lawyers and non-lawyers would identify panels of qualified candidates, from which the governor would select a judge. Judges then face the voters through periodic retention elections, in which the community decides whether they should remain on the bench.
Such elections historically have attracted far less special interest money than partisan elections, reducing pressure on judges to raise money for campaigns.
“The system is designed to take politics out of being a judge and to let merit and nonpartisanship be the driving factor,” said retired Judge John Holstein, former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court.
To learn more about the Greene County effort, see the Greene Countians for Fair and Impartial Judges web site. The Missouri Bar Association also has a page on the ballot measure.
Note: Justice at Stake supports reforms that reduce the role of special interests in the selection of judges. It does not favor any one form of judicial selection over another.