Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category

N.C. Senate Tentatively Approves Retention Election Measure

The North Carolina Senate  has given tentative approval to legislation that would have sitting state Supreme Court justices seek a new term through a retention (yes-or-no) election.

“Retention elections are one approach states have used to cut down on expensive judicial campaigns, which can require justices to raise money from those who could bring cases before the court,” reported about the legislation, which received tentative approval from the Senate on Thursday.

Under the legislation, the retention elections first would be held in 2016, when one justice is expected to face re-election. WRAL said the legislation itself was not very controversial, but the timing in it was moreso, as a Democratic critic said it appeared to provide protection to that justice.

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Judicial Funding May Be Tied To Decision in Kansas

Tension is escalating between legislators and the judiciary in Kansas, where the legislature is prepared to tie funding of the state judiciary to a controversial measure that changed the way the state court system is administered.  Last year, the state Supreme Court was stripped of a number of management and budgetary authorities over lower state courts, under legislation that was widely seen as part of an ongoing series of hostile actions toward the state court system.  The constitutionality of the legislation is currently being challenged in a lawsuit.

Now, the Lawrence Journal World reports that the legislature has approved a budget for the judicial system, with a condition:  it would cut off all court funding if the Supreme Court rules that the reallocation of authority within the court system is indeed unconstitutional. Opponents say the tactic is an overt power grab, with legislators striving to influence the Supreme Court, and question the constitutionality of one branch of government effectively shutting down another branch by de-funding it.  Supporters say it is appropriate for the courts’ budget to be linked to its policies.  

The bill is now before both chambers, and will go to a simple vote with no opportunity for amendments.

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Report: ‘No Significant Changes’ Needed in NJ Judicial Selection

Governor Chris Christie

Governor Chris Christie

In the wake of a political standoff surrounding the appointment of judges, a panel of New Jersey legal experts convened at the State Bar Association’s annual conference. Central to the discussion was a report released last month which said “no significant changes” need to be made to the state’s judicial selection process.

An article on says that the report was commissioned by the bar to determine the best course of action to prevent politics from interfering with judicial selection. The problem began after Governor Chris Chrisie promised to try and create a more conservative high court, and then did not reappoint Democratic Justice John Wallace Jr. in 2010. Democrats responded by “rejecting two of his nominees and refusing to hold hearings on two others,” the article explains. The report placed blame on both Governor Christie and the Democratic legislative majority. The article continues to explain that:

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Judicial Fundraising ‘Can Carry A Strong Scent’ In Practice

Fmr. Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson

Fmr. Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson

An article in the Texas Tribune on Friday analyzed the prudence of electing judges in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, which upheld a state’s right to restrict the fundraising activities of judicial candidates.

This fundraising “smells just fine in the civics textbooks,” the article editorializes, “but in practice, it can carry a strong scent, especially in judicial races.” Former Chief Justices Wallace Jefferson and Tom Phillips agree, as they wrote in an amicus brief for Williams-Yulee. “As former Chief Justices who have observed countless elections in our own States, and run as candidates for judicial office, we are well-acquainted with the genuine dangers — and sometimes actual abuse — present when judicial candidates personally solicit campaign contributions from parties and lawyers,” they wrote. Two former Alabama chiefs, including Sue Bell Cobb, a crusader against judicial elections, joined the brief.

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Alabama’s Former Chief Justice: Money is “King” in Judicial Races

Former Chief Justice  Sue Bell Cobb

Former Chief Justice
Sue Bell Cobb

Former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, who wrote a memorable – and scorching – Politico piece earlier this year about the perils of judicial fundraising (see Gavel Grab), is continuing her public plea for judicial selection reform.

In an Associated Press piece published in the Montgomery Advertiser, Cobb says that “money has now become the king” in judicial elections.   She argues that law firms and businesses that a judge solicits for campaign donations rarely feel they can refuse.  The best solution, she maintains, would be a merit selection system designed to keep financial and political pressure away from judges and out of the courtroom.

“What former Justice Cobb is saying publicly, is what a lot of judges feel privately but are afraid to say,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told AP.

Cobb’s original Politico account of her fundraising experiences sparked significant controversy and a spate of follow-up articles and interviews.  She continues to be outspoken about what she has called the “tawdry” process of  judicial fundraising and campaigning (see Gavel Grab).

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Retired Justice: Proposal Threatens Fairness of Alaska Courts

alaskaflagpicture2A proposal to revamp membership of the Alaska Judicial Council, in part by requiring the legislature to confirm all of its members, came under criticism this week from retired Alaska Supreme Court Justice Walter “Bud” Carpeneti.

Justice Carpeneti told the annual conference of the Alaska Bar Association that the proposal “would gravely threaten the fairness, the independence and the excellence of our courts” and open the door to “the kinds of abuses never seen here before, but unfortunately all too common in the other states,” according to the Alaska Dispatch News

He and Vic Fischer, a former delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention, said they feared the proposal would emphasize politics over justice. The council serves dual roles in Alaska’s merit-based judicial selection system, as both a judicial nominating commission and a judicial performance evaluation board. To learn more about the proposal that is before the legislature, see Gavel Grab for background

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Tennessee Legislative Gridlock Threatens Its Authority Over Judges

Gov-Haslam-headshotAfter a 2014 referendum, the Tennessee legislature should have the final say on gubernatorial appointments to the state judiciary. The House and Senate may not yet have the authority to do so, due to a disagreement on how many votes should be required from each chamber to reject an appointee.

The Memphis Daily News reports that a vacancy on the Shelby County Chancery Court has brought this question to light. Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery is of the opinion that Governor Bill Haslam’s appointee will not likely require legislative approval. “If the Legislature does not enact any such rules, then presumably it has not deemed any such rules to be necessary,” said Slatery in a legal opinion written at the request of state Rep. Jon Lundberg. “But that would in no way affect or impede the ability of the Governor to make judicial appointments.”

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NC Considers Step Away from Contested Judicial Elections

NORTH-CAROLINA-FLAG-300x224In a move that could help keep money out of North Carolina judicial elections, a House judiciary committee recommended legislation that would allow Supreme Court justices or Court of Appeals judges to face a retention (up-or-down) election after they initially win a contested election. reports that sponsor Rep. Leo Daughtry of Smithfield says the bill in part responds to the large amount of money infiltrating North Carolina judicial elections.

The bill now moves to the house floor.

This comes as other legislation to change to partisan judicial elections is being debated (see Gavel Grab.)

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Partisan Judicial Elections — or Merit — Debated in North Carolina

justice-scalesA proposal in the North Carolina legislature to make judicial elections partisan moves in the wrong direction because steps should be taken to remove politics from the courtroom, Tom Campbell writes in a Greenville Daily Reflector op-ed.

Campbell is a former assistant state treasurer. He concludes, “The verdict is in. The current system isn’t serving us well and we are increasingly convinced that electing appellate judges isn’t the best way to get the best judges. Partisan judicial elections only make them more political. We should take politics out of the courtroom as much as possible in order to assure better jurisprudence.” Read more

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Debate Renewed Over Judicial Selection in Arkansas

justice-scalesA debate over the best way to select state Supreme Court justices in Arkansas is being renewed, following remarks by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, that it’s time to rethink the current method of popular election (see Gavel Grab).

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorialized this week about a possible switch to an appointive system, “Appointments increase the likelihood that the law, not political concerns, will be the dominant influence on rulings, and we like that. But they are not a cure-all for the court’s challenges. In-depth study is the right path before this state up-ends its justice system. Let’s make sure we know what we’re getting before we say ‘yes’ to reducing the electorate’s voice.”

A different view came from an editorial at Arkansas Online, saying, “The regularly (and wisely) rejected idea of appointing the members of this state’s highest courts–instead of electing them–has shown up again.”

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