Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category

Tennessee Lawmakers Untangle New Judicial Selection Law

Justice Gary Wade

Justice Gary Wade

The impending retirement of Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade is highlighting confusion about the new process of judicial selection in the state. Last year, voters approved Amendment 2, which constitutionally altered the process. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, vague language in the law is causing confusion over when the new nominee will face a retention election – in 2016 or 2022.

Under the old law, a newly appointed judge would be approved or rejected by voters in the next state wide August election – no more than two years after his or her nomination. State Sen. Brian Kelsey, the chief legislative drafter of the amendment, says the nominee should stand in 2022 because he will be taking over a nearly complete term. Others disagree, including Nashville lawyer Lee Barfield, who, according to the article, “played a lead role in the Yes on 2 campaign in support of the judicial amendment.” At the time he commented on this scenario:

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N.C. Commentary: ‘Our Judicial Elections Aren’t Working’

It doesn’t make sense to lose the expertise of a judge like Howard Manning Jr. of the North Carolina Superior Court because of mandatory retirement at age 72, a Gaston Gazette commentary by Tom Campbell says. Campbell also criticizes judicial elections.

“Since 1971,” Campbell writes,  “we have been debating how to ensure the highest caliber judges and some good reform proposals have come forward. So far there’s been little reform, mostly talk. The big questions focus on how we select judges and how we make sure good ones are retained. Our judicial elections aren’t working. Voters stand some chance of knowing the candidates for District and Superior Court judgeships but few know those running on the appellate level.”

Campbell formerly served as assistant N.C. state treasurer.

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Ex-Chief Justice Cobb Urges Merit Selection Nationwide

Former Chief Justice Cobb of Alabama

Former Chief Justice Cobb
of Alabama

Former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb of Alabama, where appellate judges are chosen in partisan elections, called on Friday for all 50 states to use a system of judicial selection that ensures fair and impartial courts, and she said merit selection is the best approach.

“I truly believe that what we need is a transparent, diverse, merit selection committee established in every single state,” she said to applause in a keynote address at Justice at Stake’s 2015 Fair Courts State Summit. These committees would be “well balanced, have lay people as well as lawyers, have Democrats, Republicans, and Independents,” and diversity in geography and “every other category,” she said, and they would screen interested candidates and make recommendations of those who are most qualified. Read more

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Former TX Chief Justice, at ‘Summit,’ Urges Judicial Selection Reform

Former Chief Justice  Jefferson of Texas

Former Chief Justice Jefferson of Texas

Public confidence in our courts is eroded when judicial candidates raise campaign cash from litigants and lawyers, former Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson told Justice at Stake’s 2015 Fair Courts State Summit in a keynote address on Thursday.

Jefferson, the Texas court’s first African-American judge and first African-American chief justice, is an ardent champion of merit selection. Recounting his firsthand experience in Texas, he told the Summit attendees why he believes reform is necessary and also why it is hard to achieve.

After describing a Texas system whereby many judges win office on a straight-ticket partisan vote, he said the top qualifications to win election are party affiliation, the “sound of your name” and “how much money you can raise. And what is so disheartening about that is it has nothing to do with qualification and merit.”

“Another very fundamental problem,” he continued, “is that the public … thinks that if you’re accepting money from a litigant or lawyer, you are  going to back that litigant or lawyer in your judicial ruling. And so the confidence in a fair and impartial system of justice goes away just by the very practice that you have in Texas and many many other states, even increasingly in states where judges are elected in retention elections.” Read more

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Christie Opposes Judges Raising Money, Running for Election

ap_Christie_ac_131105.jpg_16x9_992“I don’t want to see judges raising money and running for election,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, said on Fox News Sunday. He disagreed with a call by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz for retention elections of Supreme Court justices.

Christie said he favored a Supreme Court selection process like that used by New Jersey, with justices appointed for a term of seven years, and then the governor can decide whether to nominate them for life tenure.

In the wake of blockbuster rulings by the Supreme Court last month, there was more criticism of the justices from politicians and others and more calls for reform. Here are some of the articles and commentaries: Reuters, “GOP presidential candidates criticize Supreme Court”; Racine (Wi.) Journal Times editorial, “Other view: Court rulings show our system works”; Constitution Daily, “The Continuing Debate Over the Supreme Court and Term Limits”; Erwin Chemerinsky in The New Republic, “Ted Cruz Is Right: The Supreme Court Needs Term Limits”; Breitbart TV, “Huckabee Calls for Term Limits on Supreme Court”;  TCliff Kincaid at Accuracy in Media, “Celebrate the 4th: Impeach Kagan and Ginsburg.”

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Official Urges Switch to Merit Selection for Picking MD Circuit Judges

md.flagCitizens of Maryland would be better served if the state switched from contested elections for Circuit Court judges to a merit selection system like that used for choosing appellate judges, a family law attorney who also is a state delegate wrote in The Washington Post.

Democratic Del. Kathleen M. Dumais said judicial elections are costly, often feature misleading advertising, typically leave voters poorly informed about ways to evaluate judicial candidates and the final ballot does not even state whether a candidate is a sitting judge.

“The most important and long overdue change in Maryland would be to select circuit court judges by merit instead of by election,” Dumais concluded. “This would protect our community and guarantee that our judges have the highest quality of character, integrity, judicial temperament and education.”

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Brownback Assails Courts, Urges Changes to Selecting Judges

Gov. Brownback

Gov. Brownback

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage ruling and two Kansas Supreme Court rulings, on abortion and school funding, as politically driven and has called for a “more democratic” selection process for judges.

Earlier this year Brownback proposed changes to the way Kansas justices are selected, by either shifting to their direct election or to a Washington-style system of appointment by the chief executive and confirmation by the state Senate. The justices currently are chosen through a merit selection process.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Brownback’s latest views by relying on an email sent from his office to  people who have signed up for such communications. The email branded the nation’s highest court a judiciary “unrestrained by the rule of law.” Read more

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N.C. Justice to Seek Reelection by Retention in 2016

Justice Bob Edmunds of the North Carolina Supreme Court will take advantage of a new law and run next year for a new term in a retention, as opposed to a contested, election, the Associated Press reported.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, recently signed into law the measure pushed by a Republican legislature. It has attracted media attention nationwide as an example of a transparently partisan measure to stack a court with sympathetic judges.

This month, a Mother Jones article portrayed the change to state judicial selection law as tantamount to canceling the 2016 election (see Gavel Grab). Said  Melissa Price Kromm of the North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections Coalition. “It is a partisan, political power grab.” Justice Edmunds is a Republican. Read more

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Editorial: PA Merit Plan Would Bring ‘A Vast Improvement’

Another Pennsylvania editorial board is endorsing the proposed merit selection of appellate judges, this time warning that big spending on existing judicial elections for the state Supreme Court can erode public confidence in its integrity.

“With $5 million in contributions made to candidates in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court primary and some fearing far more, including out-of-state money, expected in the general election, the worry arises that special interests might have or at least appear to have undue influence over our highest court,” said the LancasterOnline editorial.  Read more

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After IA Court Ruling, Critic Would Revamp Judicial Screening Panel

iowaflagOn June 19, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that doctors can administer abortion-inducing pills through video conferencing with patients. A critic of the ruling quickly called for changes to the way Iowa Supreme Court justices are chosen.

Chuck Hurley, vice president and chief counsel of The Family Leader, zeroed in on the composition of the judicial nominating commission that recommends candidates to the governor for appointment. He called for having members of the commission be elected by state voters, according to The Iowa Republican.

Currently, there are 15 members of the vetting panel, and it is chaired by the senior associate justice of the Supreme Court. “The [seven] elected members are chosen by resident members of the bar in each congressional district, and the [seven] appointed members are chosen by the governor, subject to senate confirmation,” according to the Judicial Selection in the States website, operated by the National Center for State Courts. Read more

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