Appointive System Seen as ‘Cleanest Solution’ for Picking AR Judges

It’s well enough to debate bringing disclosure to “dark money” spent to influence Arkansas judicial elections, but the “dimly-lit” and “well lit” rivers of money must not be ignored, John Brummett writes in an Arkansas Online commentary.

Brummett surveys spending of all sorts on the recent Arkansas Supreme Court election, which has ignited new debate about reform, and firmly sides with merit selection: “The cleanest solution would be to stop electing appellate-level judges and allow the governor to make confirmable nominations from a list of prospects certified by a committee consisting, but only in part, of Bar Association members.” Various proposals were to be discussed at a legislative hearing today.

A Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette commentary by Brenda Blagg, meanwhile, discussed reforms under discussion and said if Arkansas thinks about switching to merit selection of its judges, voters ought to have time to give it studied consideration.

Editorial: Given PA Court’s ‘Rap Sheet,’ It’s Time for Merit Selection

Various editorial boards’ hammering at the scandal-ridden Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and urging a switch to merit selection of top judges to pick better qualified jurists, is unrelenting. The latest comes from LancasterOnline.

The editorial mocks the “court rap sheet” that includes one ex-justice convicted of corruption and two others disgraced, having resigned in an offensive email scandal. It finds the big money-fueled, partisan system for electing justices wanting and declares, “We believe a merit system is the answer.”

“We are hesitant to take away power from voters. But, given the scandals revolving around the state’s elected judges, and the meager voter turnout — one in five of eligible voters came out during the past election cycle — our current system has left us with little choice,” the editorial says. “The General Assembly should pass this bill. It would represent an important step toward judicial independence. It would (more…)

Editorial Scorches Seeming PA Judicial ‘Arrogance,’ Also Backs Merit

A scathing Philadelphia Inquirer editorial rips the judicial discipline process that allowed Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin to resign amid a lewd email scandal and avoid a public trial and the penalties it might have brought. Eakin was fined $50,000 and allowed to keep his pension (see Gavel Grab).

“The unmistakable impression is that Pennsylvania’s entire judiciary suffers from an arrogance that prevents it from subjecting its own to the sort of unflinching judgment it imposes on others,” the editorial says.

The editorial voices disappointment “that the disciplinary court, particularly after one of its judges showed an encouraging grasp of the need for a public process, gave in to the system’s unhealthy proclivity for backroom bargains.” It goes on to say that another justice was a “more prolific porn-mail participant” than Eakin but enjoyed a “similarly quiet exit” from the high court less than two years ago. The editorial concludes by citing unanswered questions and urging adoption of merit selection of top judges: (more…)

This Week in Arkansas: Hearing on Judicial Selection Reform

arkansas_flag_web_fc1aAs the state Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to hear debate on Wednesday about judicial selection reform in Arkansas, at least two ideas have been floated, according to an Associated Press article.

Committee chairman Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, a Republican, is exploring the level of support behind the possibility of putting on the November ballot a measure to switch from election of Supreme Court justices to a merit system for appointing them.

And some Democratic legislators would like to get the governor, Republican Asa Hutchinson, to schedule several campaign finance reform measures for a special session later this year, with one of them to require disclosure of spending by “dark money” groups. (more…)

Author: Merit Replaced ‘Cash-and-Carry’ Oklahoma Justice System

Darvocet-Stack-of-Cash-GavelToo few Oklahomans know today about a state Supreme Court scandal in the 1960s that paved the way for today’s merit-based system for appointing top judges, author and attorney Bob Burke told an audience in Enid, according to an Enid News & Eagle article.

The state was known for its “cash-and-carry justice system,” Burke said about the elected court of that era. “There was no independent judiciary. It was who brings the most money … And there are a handful of legislators who want to return to the days when the Supreme Court was in the grip of party politicians and special interest groups.”

Legislators unhappy with court decisions have proposed shifting to the election of judges and also have proposed changes to the judicial nominating commission method in place (see Gavel Grab). Burke is a co-author of a book titled “How bad it was, how good it is : the value of an independent Oklahoma judiciary.”

Amid Rising Debate, a Call for Merit Selection in Arkansas

arkansas_flag_web_fc1aDebate is brewing in Arkansas over possible reform of the way appellate judges are elected, and amid the back-and-forth, a column by attorney Woody Bassett in The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette solidly advocates a shift to merit selection:

“In recent years campaigns for the Arkansas Supreme Court have left many of us feeling disillusioned and disheartened, regardless of whether our favored candidate won or lost. Rank partisan politics, undue influence from special interest groups and the injection of vast amounts of money into Supreme Court campaigns from both known and unknown sources are harming our state’s judicial system by eroding the respect, confidence and trust of the citizens of Arkansas in our state’s highest court.

“While most people firmly and correctly believe our circuit and district judges should continue to be chosen by the voters in the counties where they serve, Arkansas needs to establish and implement a system of merit-selection to choose who will serve on our state’s appellate courts. To do so will require that the people of this state amend the Arkansas Constitution and it’s time for our Legislature to adopt and refer such an amendment to the voters of Arkansas.”


Op-Ed: To Fill PA Court Vacancy, Test Merit Selection

As Gov. Tom Wolf prepares to fill a vacancy on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, he would do well to appoint a nonpartisan screening commission to vet candidates and thereby test the kind of merit selection process that’s under consideration in the legislature, an op-ed suggests.

The Philadelphia Inquirer commentary was written by former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis, who now is  executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS). It is a Justice at Stake partner organization. For background about the proposed merit selection of top Pennsylvania judges, see Gavel Grab.

The vacancy was created by the recent resignation of Justice Michael Eakin amid a lewd email scandal. In related coverage, had an article headlined, “Lawmakers propose sweeping judicial discipline reform in wake of email scandal.” And reported, “Judicial court freezes proceedings against former Justice Eakin.”

Research Study: ‘Higher-Quality’ Decisions From Merit-Selected Judges

justice-scalesAt the social networking website Care2, Cody Fenwick examines the arguments for electing judges and against them, and decides in favor of appointive systems that insulate judges from politics. His essay mentions a new  study that may become part of the debate:

“A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that judges appointed by commissions and confirmed by governors produced higher-quality legal decisions — as measured by the frequency with which the opinion was cited in the future. Judges elected in non-partisan elections produced somewhat lower-quality opinions on average, while judges elected in partisan elections produced the lowest quality of opinions.”

The authors of the paper conclude in a synopsis: “These results are consistent with the view that technocratic merit commissions have better information about the quality of candidates than voters, and that political bias can reduce the quality of elected officials.”

Choose Merit Selection for Pennsylvania, Not Scandal, Editorial Says

Only hours after Justice Michael Eakin resigned from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court amid a lewd email scandal (see Gavel Grab), a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial supported a switch to merit selection, rather than contested election, for choosing top state judges:

“A few weeks before Eakin’s resignation, five former governors from both parties joined Gov. Wolf in supporting legislation to replace the state’s low-interest, high-cost, partisan judicial elections with a merit-based selection process for the state’s appellate judges. Eakin’s departure in disgrace, the third from the high court in as many years, makes it that much clearer that the alternative is regular and reliable scandal.”


Legislative Committee Rejects End to MD Circuit Court Elections

A House committee in Maryland has rejected several bills proposing an end to state Circuit Court elections. The Judiciary Committee issued unfavorable reports on the bills, according to

At a hearing of the committee last month, Justice at Stake testified in support of the legislation and recommended a series of steps to ensure the impartiality and fairness of these courts (see Gavel Grab).

“On behalf of Justice at Stake, I testify in support of changing the way that Maryland selects its circuit court judges to one based in the best practices for merit selection as practiced across the country. Moving away from contested elections for circuit court judges will reduce political influence in our courts, helping to ensure that the courts can protect the rights of everyone who comes before them,” testified JAS Director of State Affairs Debra Erenberg then.