Proposed HI Judicial Elections Falter; Another Change Debated

Hawaii_state_sealTwo bills to move to the popular election of judges in Hawaii (see Gavel Grab) have died in legislative committee, according to a Honolulu Civil Beat column, while a bill requiring senators to consent to a judge seeking reappointment is getting state Senate debate.

“The move to put the Senate into the mix is widely viewed as a further politicization of the selection process,” columnist Ian Lind wrote. He also said the proposed legislation “was apparently triggered by legislative anger over a recent court ruling in a long-running lawsuit over funding for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.”

Under the kind of merit selection process now in place, judges who seek a new term may be retained by a vote of the judicial selection commission. The legislation would require approval by the commission and confirmation by the Senate, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts.

Lind was critical of the proposal requiring Senate consent for judges seeking a new term. “[T]here will be little for the Senate to review in the case of reappointments except for a judge’s prior rulings,” he wrote. “So the process of reappointment could easily become an an occasion for pressuring judges over past legal rulings, with the aim of altering their future rulings,” he wrote.

Last month, Justice at Stake urged the Senate to preserve Hawaii’s merit selection system (Gavel Grab has background). “It would be a tremendous disservice to the citizens of Hawaii to do away with the merit selection system that has served the state well since 1978. Contested elections distort the basic fairness of courts and judicial decisionmaking, by opening the door to hardball politics and financial pressure in judicial selection,” then-JAS Interim Executive Director Liz Seaton said.