Gavel Grab

Archive for the ‘Ballot Measures’ Category

In Florida, a Ballot Item on Courts ‘Is All About Power’

A drive to oust three Florida Supreme Court justices has gotten more attention, but state voters will also consider in November a ballot item to require state Senate confirmation of justices, who are named by the governor.

Supporters and foes give their views in a Tampa Bay Online article about the ballot measure. The article states flatly that the proposed constitutional amendment “is all about power — whether the state Supreme Court should have less and the Florida Legislature should have more.”

In addition to proposing the Senate confirmation requirement, the measure would make it easier for the legislature to repeal an administrative rule adopted by the Supreme Court (see Gavel Grab). It is called Amendment 5.

Adam Skaggs of the Brennan Center for Justice, a JAS partner group, saw the Republican-led ballot measure matching GOP efforts to remove three justices from the high court.

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‘Full-Frontal Attack’ on Florida Courts Makes National News

Republicans are engaging in a dual-pronged ”bid to remake the Florida judiciary,” states a a New York Times article by Lizette Alvarez.

In the report, casting a national spotlight on a heated judicial retention (yes-or-no) election, critics prominently condemn what they see as an alarming, all-out attack on the courts.

Republicans are seeking  to remove three state Supreme Court justices and have a Republican governor name their successors. Republicans also seek to “give the Legislature greater power over Supreme Court appointments and judicial rules of procedure,” the article states, referring to ballot items before voters this fall. A group funded by the Koch brothers and a conservative state-based group are also targeting the trio of justices.

One of the targeted jurists, Justice Fred Lewis, condemns the effort and worries about its impact:

“I am very, very stressed at the entire circumstance. … What is going on now is much larger than any one individual. This is a full-frontal attack — that had been in the weeds before — on a fair and impartial judicial system, which is the cornerstone and bedrock of our democracy.”

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Editorial Scorches NH Court Rule-Making Proposal

A Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph editorial decried a ballot proposal  to amend New Hampshire’s Constitution and give legislators ultimate authority in making rules for court administration violates the principle of separation of powers. The item is named CACR 26.

“CACR 26 is a bald-faced legislative power grab that supplants a fundamental tenet on which this nation was founded – the separation of governmental powers,” the editorial declared.

In noting strong arguments why voters should defeat the proposal, the editorial quoted from a commentary earlier this year by former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nadeau and former Gov. Steve Merrill.

“The court is not a state agency. It is a branch of government. By the language of the New Hampshire Constitution, the legislative branch is political; the judicial branch is not. We value an independent political branch, and we value an independent judicial branch,” they wrote. “Everyone, nevertheless, should be concerned about a legislative takeover of the courts, because political control of the judiciary is just not in the public interest.”

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Backers Say They Won’t Campaign for MO Merit Ballot Item

BULLETIN: Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s spokesperson said a merit selection ballot item summary was fair and sufficient.

“What it sounds like has now happened is that the proponents have decided that they either don’t like the language of their underlying measure, or they don’t think they can win at the ballot box,” Stacie Temple said, according to St. Louis Public Radio.  “So they’re looking for a reason to justify their decision not to pursue it.” 

Proponents of a Nov. 6 ballot measure to change the way top judges are chosen in Missouri announced on Tuesday they would not actively campaign for the measure.

Stating that an official summary of the ballot measure produced by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s office is biased, these backers of the measure said they dislike the summary and won’t pump money into a campaign to “warn voters” about the summary and urge them to vote yes.

The supporters pledged to save their money for a future battle on behalf of “meaningful judicial reform,” according to an Associated Press article.

James Harris, executive director of Better Courts for Missouri, said, “We made a smart business decision and kind of paused and regrouped and decided we’re going back to the drawing board.””

Opponents of the measure promised to go forward with their own campaign.

“We will continue to educate Missouri voters on why it’s dangerous to allow politicians to control what is now a nonpartisan process,” said Skip Walther, treasurer for Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee. Read more

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Article: How Judicial Merit Selection Plays out in Arizona

Out of 38 judgeships she has filled, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has named 35 Republicans, or 92 percent of the judges, from her party. That’s a higher ratio than any of her three predecessors selected from their own parties, according to an Arizona Republic article.

Despite existence of a merit-based system for selecting judges that has been in place for 38 years, political factors still are involved in seating judges on the bench, the article said.

Nonetheless, a number of legal veterans said Arizona’s courts “tend to be nonpartisan in rulings and conduct,” the article added. “They say that’s because under the merit-selection systems, nominees are chosen more for their experience, professionalism and abilities than their political views.”

If a ballot measure before voters is passed this fall, the role that politics plays in the process could increase, according to some experts. The article recapped views from both sides of the ballot measure to give the governor more control, and options, when it comes to picking judges for vacancies (see Gavel Grab for background).

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Editorial Opposes Changing Merit Selection in Missouri

Defenders of Missouri’s nationally recognized merit selection plan for choosing judges have a stronger argument than critics pushing  a constitutional amendment to change it, a Jefferson City News Tribune editorial contended.

Some of the leading defenders of Missouri’s Nonpartisan Court Plan are working with a group called Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts to oppose the proposed constitutional amendment. These advocates include six former state Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab for more, along with details about the ballot proposal).

One of the former justices, William Ray Price Jr., said recently that the current merit selection plan  ”tries to impose checks and balances and moderates the type of people [on a judicial nominating panel] to keep them away from politics and bigmoney contributions as best we can,” the editorial said.

Supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment, under the banner of a group called Better Courts for Missouri, say the amendment would “break the monopoly that trial attorneys and interest groups have on the selection of judges” and would give allow the voters to exercise more accountability through action by the governor.

“We believe that Price and fellow opponents of the amendment have the stronger argument,” the editorial concluded. It explained:

“Checks and balances are functions of the three separate but equal branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial.

“The amendment would transfer power to the governor, thereby strengthening the executive branch and weakening the judicial branch.”

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Legislature Responds Quickly to New Jersey Court’s Pension Ruling

New Jersey voters will consider in November whether to require higher health and pension payments by state judges.

The legislature moved quickly on Monday to put the issue before voters, according to a (Newark) Star-Ledger article, after the state Supreme Court exempted most judges from a new law requiring that public workers pay more for their health benefits and pensions (see Gavel Grab).

Foes warned that the proposed constitutional amendment could undermine fair and impartial courts, while Gov. Chris Christie and some state legislators slammed the state’s high court.

New Jersey Bar Association President Kevin McCann said the proposed amendment poses “an independence issue in that the government cannot intrude into the judicial branch to change their salaries — they can increase it, but they can’t reduce it.”

Christie, a Republican praised the legislature’s action. “Rarely has the public seen such unanimity between the legislative and executive branches that the judicial branch was dead wrong,” Christie said.

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Former Missouri Bar President Assails Proposed Merit Change

A constitutional amendment to be considered by Missouri voters this fall will decide “whether our courthouse doors are open to the highest bidder,” a former Missouri Bar president has cautioned.

Lawyer Skip Walther (photo) was highly critical of the proposal in a Columbia Daily Tribune commentary. He said the proposed changes to Missouri’s nationally recognized merit-based system for selecting judges would “give the governor and his political allies and supporters the ability to handpick judges” and invite a deluge of political cash from partisans with a specific agenda and candidate in mind. Walther elaborated:

“So far, two very wealthy Missourians have spent more than $1 million to dismantle our judicial selection system known as the Missouri Plan. If we approve the constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall to give the governor almost total control over judicial selection, it is a virtual certainty that future governors will be showered with political contributions from these men and others who want to shape the ideological makeup of our highest judges. Donors literally will be able to buy their way into the process of judicial selection.”

To learn details of the proposal, see this earlier Gavel Grab post.

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Arizona Voters Will Weigh Changes to Merit Selection

As a result of legislative action in 2011, Arizonans will be asked this year whether to change the merit-based system in place for choosing judges for the state Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and the trial courts in the two largest counties. The upcoming referendum is stirring debate.

If approved by voters,  a measure of influence would be shifted from the State Bar and judicial screening commissions to the governor, who would get more options when it comes to picking judges for vacancies. Now, a governor chooses a judge from as few as three finalists selected by a screening panel; if the ballot measure is passed, the governor would choose from at least eight choices.

A Capitol Media Services article, presenting an overview of the debate, quoted Senior Judge Mary M. Schroeder of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as voicing questions about the proposed changes. She expressed concern that a governor’s choosing from a larger set of finalists would not guarantee selection of the most qualified judges.

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Ballot Measure on Judicial Elections Struck Down in Montana

James Reynolds, a Montana district court judge, has struck down as unconstitutional a referendum on the June ballot to elect state Supreme Court justices by district instead of statewide.

The Republican-backed referendum was “aimed to help conservatives in Montana Supreme Court elections,” according to an Associated Press article, and its legislative sponsor had criticized the state high court as an “activist judiciary” (see Gavel Grab).

Judge Reynolds wrote that the initiative would alter the state’s Constitution by imposing new requirements for candidates for the state Supreme Court. The initiative has language requiring judicial candidates to live inside proposed regional districts, which he declared unconstitutional; the Montana Constitution, Judge Reynolds said, merely requires state residency for two years.

An appeal to the Montana Supreme Court was expected. A KAJ18 news report was headlined, “Supreme Court Justice referendum pulled from 2012 ballot.”


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