Gavel Grab

Editorial: Fracas Shows Why Virginia Needs Merit Selection

Seal_of_Virginia.svgVirginia Republicans have embarrassed themselves by holding “an eminent jurist hostage to … partisanship,” a Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial said, calling again for the state to move to merit selection of its judges.

The editorial reflected on a recent backlash by Republicans after Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe named Justice Jane Marum Roush as an interim appointee (see Gavel Grab). The Republicans said they would dump her and not elect her to the Virginia Supreme Court once the interim term expired. However, there is some speculation now that the GOP might change its mind and elect her in January, the editorial said.

Legislators elect judges in Virginia except when the General Assembly is not in session. The editorial said that “the broader lesson teaches Virginia that the commonwealth must move to merit selection of judges,” an opinion the newspaper editorial page expressed more fully last week (Gavel Grab has background). 

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Opinion: Fair State Courts Would Benefit Voting Rights Advocates

In a commentary discussing litigation in North Carolina courts to defend voting rights, Billy Corriher of the Center for American Progress says advocates wanting a fair hearing in state courts ought to push for judicial selection reform.

“The same partisan interests with a stake in voter suppression are funding the campaigns of the judges who will approve their agendas,” Corriher warns. “Americans in states with elected judges must demand that state supreme court justices implement ethics rules that would keep them from hearing cases involving their campaign contributors.”

By adopting an appointment system for choosing judges, states “would certainly keep partisan cash from dominating the judiciary,” he adds. Read more

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Candidates Rising to Bench Despite Low Ratings by Peers

Under New York’s system for election of state Supreme Court judges, it is questionable whether three people likely to be elevated to that bench in Erie County are among the best qualified, a Buffalo News article suggests.

A prosecutor who received a “not recommended” rating by the Erie County Bar Association qualified for an open position on the ballot, is unopposed and “is assured of election” in November, the article said. Two other attorneys who received the rating of “qualified,” which is inferior to “well qualified” and “outstanding” ratings, are expected to win cross-endorsement by both political parties and secure election.

Meanwhile another Buffalo News article was headlined, “State panel finds that Hamburg, Elma justices should be admonished for political donations.”

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Six Years Later, Justice Jefferson Still Quoted on Merit Selection

texas courtA Texas political reporter, in reminding his readers that state Supreme Court justices are elected officials, found it useful to quote then-Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson about his advocacy for a merit-based selection system to replace the elections.

“We should adopt a system for judges that has two primary components. Judges should achieve office by merit rather than whim, and voters should hold judges accountable, based on their records, through subsequent retention elections,” Jefferson said in 2009, according to the Houston Chronicle commentary by Bobby Cervantes. “When a judge’s victory is based on party over principle, money over merit, cynicism over the rule of law, voters lose.” Read more

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Howard Brill, who spent decades teaching at the University of Arkansas School of Law, took the oath of office to serve on the Arkansas Supreme Court, Arkansas Online reported.
  • After a big year for liberals, Jeffrey Toobin wrote in The New Yorker, “the conservatives on the [Supreme] Court are poised for a comeback, and the subjects before the Justices appear well suited for liberal defeats.”
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Article: Will IL Judges ‘Skirt the Constitution’ to Seek Election?

St_Clair_County_Seal.271195813_stdThree circuit judges in St. Clair County, Il. have signaled they will seek another term on the bench by standing for election next year rather than for retention, as the state Constitution outlines, according to a MadisonRecord.com article.

The article suggests the judges are taking an unusual though not entirely unprecedented electoral path after seeing Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier barely secure the required 60 percent voter approval threshold when he sought retention in 2014. Read more

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • A county clerk in Kentucky refused to grant licenses for same-sex couples to marry although the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday had declined to support her position, the New York Times reported.
  • The Meadville (Pa.) Tribune reported, “Candidates seeking state court positions speak in Meadville area.”
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Amid Political Tussle Over Judgeship, VA Court Shuffles Schedule

Partisan political dueling over a Virginia Supreme Court judgeship appears to have led the court to curtail its September session from four days to three, concluding the day before Justice Jane Marum Roush’s interim appointment expires.

The Washington Post reported the last development in the ongoing saga. “As time runs out on McAuliffe’s pick, Va.’s Supreme Court shuffles docket,” its headline said. With Republican legislators and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe at a standoff over his intention to appoint Roush to a second recess appointment, legal experts have said her participation in cases upon reappointment could come under legal challenge (see Gavel Grab).

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Monday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that demonstrations are not permitted on the outdoor plaza in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, The Washington Post reported.
  • The New York Times had an article headlined, “Once a Pariah, Now a Judge: The Early Transgender Journey of Phyllis Frye.”
  • A judicial election website for Ohio, JudicialVotesCount.org, now is operating and ought to be a help to voters, said an editorial in the (Northwest Ohio) Courier.
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Debate Continues Over Changes to MD Judicial Selection

Amid debate over eliminating elections for circuit court judgeships in Maryland, an editorial in The Aegis, a local newspaper published in Harford County, Md., finds good aspects about the existing hybrid system.

Currently the governor appoints circuit judges from candidates recommended by a screening commission, and if the judge seeks to stay on the bench he or she must then stand in what can be a contested election. In the Maryland legislature, a proposed constitutional amendment to remove the contested elections was introduced this year (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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