Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category

Report by Business-Led Group Criticizes Judicial Elections, Urges Merit

20151118_Choosing_JusticeAn important new report from The Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board delivers stinging criticism of judicial elections and says fundamental reform is urgently needed. “[A]ppointment  should be the basic principle applied to the selection of all judges,” the report says in favoring merit-based judicial selection.

“State judges make decisions in over 100 million cases annually, but their ability to handle these matters impartially is put at risk when floods of election money pour into the judiciary,” said Bob Kueppers, former Deputy CEO of Deloitte and Co-Chair of CED’s Money in Politics Subcommittee, which led the study, in a statement. “Appointing them based on merit will insulate them from the political pressures caused by campaigns and, ultimately, help to ensure that justice is fairly applied.”

The CED report says, “Elections encourage candidates to raise campaign contributions and appeal to voters, which exposes judges to partisan political pressures and interest group politicking aimed at influencing their behavior.” It zeroes in on concerns of the business community: Read more

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Proposal to Revamp AK Screening Commission Gets Scrutiny

An Alaska state senator who has sponsored proposals to change the way judges are selected has in the past “been most disappointed by rulings in Alaska preserving abortion rights,” according to a lengthy Alaska Commons article.

The article was referring to Republican state Sen. Pete Kelly. He has proposed revamping membership of the Alaska Judicial Council, which serves as both a judicial nominating commission and a judicial performance evaluation board. Critics of the proposal (see Gavel Grab) say it would bring politics into selecting judges and undermine fair and impartial courts.

The article presents arguments by both advocates and detractors of the proposed overhaul and also discusses a new academic paper, by faculty from the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center. It Read more

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Pittsburgh Editorial: Give Merit Selection a Try

At a time Pennsylvania’s appellate judiciary has fallen into disgrace, the legislature must seriously consider a bipartisan proposal for replacing partisan contested election of judges with merit selection, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial says.

In the state Supreme Court election just completed, three new justices were chosen amid $16.5 million in spending that set a national record, the editorial notes. “Does all that money get Pennsylvania the best judges?” it asks. “Not necessarily.”

The editorial points to scandals around two former justices and allegations targeting a sitting justice. “The reputation of Pennsylvania’s appellate judiciary is a disgrace, which is a good reason to try another method of selecting jurists,” it says. The editorial recommends that legislators give “serious consideration” to a proposal for a 13-member judicial vetting committee that recommends appeals judge candidates to the governor for appointment, subject to state Senate confirmation. Read more

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Editorial: Missouri Merit Selection ‘Has Served the State Well’

MO PlanApproaching age 75, the Missouri nonpartisan court plan — also widely known as merit selection of judges — “has served the state well” and “Missourians should be proud of it,” says a editorial. It also suggests that some tweaks are in order.

The pioneering system “keeps special-interest money from stacking the courts and avoids the spectacle of partisan elections for judges. By contrast, in states such as Illinois and Pennsylvania, lawyers wage multimillion-dollar campaigns for the bench,” the editorial says. It says that the Missouri Bar has mounted a traveling exhibit to mark the 75th anniversary.

When it comes to possible shortcomings of the existing plan, the editorial notes, “It still helps to have friends in high places, which raises a perception problem. This could jeopardize the reputation of the court plan.” It suggests changes to the rules for membership on nonpartisan screening commissions and expansion of merit selection: Read more

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Editorial: Merit is a Better Way to Select Top Wisconsin Judges

justice-scalesIt’s time to revamp the way Wisconsin chooses its top judges and adopt a merit-based appointment system, the Wisconsin State Journal declares in an editorial.

The editorial reflects on both a recent controversial appointment to the high court (see Gavel Grab) and the way, it says, that the appointee could get a boost in running for the high court in an election next year:

“Wisconsin needs a better system for selecting its top judges. The governor shouldn’t get complete control when filling vacancies. Moreover, Wisconsin’s best legal minds shouldn’t have to beg for money, court special interests and sling mud in judicial elections to serve on the state’s highest court.

“Remember: Judges are supposed to be above the partisan fray as neutral arbiters of the law. And when big campaign donors come before a judge for a legal decision, the appearance of bias is inescapable, damaging public trust.”

Read more

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Opinion: Time for MD Circuit Court Judicial Elections to End

maryland_flag1As spending on judicial elections steadily rises in states around the country, it is time for Maryland to seriously consider a proposal to switch from elections to a merit-based appointment process for choosing Circuit Court judges, a retired judge writes.

Retired Circuit Court Judge Steven I. Platt says in a Capitol Gazette opinion that Maryland’s Republican governor has signaled openness to considering backing for the proposal, and changing politics in Maryland have made the reform more feasible.

In March, Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera called for a constitutional amendment to end elections of circuit court judges in the state. The same month, Justice at Stake urged the Read more

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Will Another Porn Email Scandal Affect Pennsylvania High Court?

Will the Pennsylvania Supreme Court be affected by another email porn scandal? The latest headlines suggest that, less than a year after then-Justice Seamus McCaffery resigned following  his apology for sending sexually explicit emails, which he had described as private and personal (see Gavel Grab).

The latest headlines are based on statements by Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who is facing criminal charges that she leaked confidential grand jury information to damage a critic. Here are some of the headlines, involving Justice J. Michael Eakin: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Kane says Justice Eakin exchanged porn emails on state servers”; Philadelphia Daily News, “New emails surface in Kathleen Kane saga”; and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Attorney General Kane: Sitting state justice sent, received ‘racial, misogynistic pornography’ on state computers.” Read more

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More Reason to Switch to Appointing Judges: Editorial

Pennsylvania_quarter,_reverse_side,_1999A recent analysis about elected judges and death penalty appeals provides all the more reason that Pennsylvania should switch from electing top judges to an appointment-based system, a Scranton Times-Tribune editorial says.

The editorial cites a recent Reuters study suggesting that state Supreme Court justices who must face election are more likely than appointed justices to uphold death sentences on appeal (see Gavel Grab).

“Judges should not have to look over their shoulders when deciding life-and-death cases and other important matters,” the editorial declares. 

“The pattern in death-penalty appeals is another indicator that Pennsylvania should switch to appointing appellate judges.”

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Editorial: Public Confidence Eroded by Partisan Judicial Races

It undermines public confidence in impartial courts when candidates for judgeships are required to run for election in partisan races, an Arizona Daily Sun editorial declares.

The editorial points to an ethics brush-up by a Flagstaff justice of the peace as an example of “politicking gone awry in a judicial race,” but it goes further to question the entire system of partisan elections for judgeships.

The editorial says that “having judge candidates campaign for office is incompatible with the independent, nonpartisan nature of the job. … A halfway measure for insulating judge candidates from special interests is to have them run only with public funding. They would still need to post fliers and press the flesh. But at least they would not need to go hat in hand to citizens and businesses in the community who might later have business before the court.”

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Proposed Change to Judicial Selection Draws Concern in Alaska

alaskaflagpicture2At a recent Rotary Club event in Sitka, Alaska, a group called Justice Not Politics outlined its concerns over a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way judges are selected by revamping membership of the Alaska Judicial Council.

According to KCAW radio, former Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks also spoke about the meaning of judicial impartiality free of political pressure:

“And independence of the judiciary, to me, doesn’t mean independence to do what you want. You’re not independent as king. You can’t decide cases necessarily on what you want to have happen. And I regularly made decisions as a judge that, if I were king and making all the rules, I wouldn’t have made. But as a judge you make the decision based on the law that is there, and things that have happened before, not on your personal preferences necessarily. And independence means independence from the political process of deciding because you feel you owe something to someone, or you have a connection to some party that makes it best for you to do that.”

Read more

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