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Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category

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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Editorial: Merit-Based Judicial Selection Needed in Virginia

Seal_of_Virginia.svgReflecting on an ongoing political fight over a Virginia Supreme Court judgeship, a Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial calls for the legislature to adopt a merit-based selection system for choosing judges.

The squabble has unfolded over Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s interim appointment to the court of Justice Jane Marum Roush, and Republican legislators’ pushing to buck tradition, dump her and elect their favored candidate, Judge Rossie Alston (see Gavel Grab for background). Generally, judges are chosen by the legislature.

The editorial portrayed an “unflattering ordeal” over the “stalemate,” called Roush a capable judge and said that although McAuliffe should have consulted with Republicans before appointing her, they are going too far in objecting to her nomination. The editorial then calls for an appointive system with judges confirmed by legislators: Read more

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Editorial: Base OK Judicial Reform Changes on Merit, not Frustration

Oklahoma flagCalls to eliminate Oklahoma’s Judicial Nominating Commission, established after a popular vote in 1967 in order to remove some politics from selecting appellate judges, must be weighed carefully, an editorial in The Oklahoman warns.

The panel screens candidates for judgeships and makes recommendations to the governor for appointment. There has been a flap about a recent case in which the panel did not recommend three finalists for a local judgeship, as the law requires, because it said it found only two who were qualified (see Gavel Grab).

Republican Rep. Kevin Calvey is leading an effort to jettison the commission. He says its “liberal Democrat bias has been clear for years” and its work has resulted in a liberal state Supreme Court. He has called for impeachment of state justices their order to remove a Ten Commandments marker from the capitol grounds and he proposed an interim study on reforming Oklahoma’s judiciary. The newspaper editorial concluded:

“The JNC isn’t perfect, but neither is any other system. We suggest, as we have in the past, that any judicial reform efforts be carefully vetted and that changes be made based on merit, not simply out of frustration over court rulings that lawmakers don’t like.”

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Judicial Selection Reform Gets Scrutiny in Oklahoma

On the heels of a flap about Oklahoma’s Judicial Nominating Commission (see Gavel Grab), a prominent legislator said an interim study of judicial selection reform will be reviewed by the full House of Representatives.

Republican Rep. Randy Grau, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, gave that update to the Edmond Sun.

To learn about Rep. Kevin Calvey, a staunch critic of the state’s courts, urging the interim study, see Gavel Grab. Calvey told the Edmond Sun recently, “Our courts clearly are not in line with the views of the people of Oklahoma. And, there are some problems with the way our judges are selected in Oklahoma that makes it not representative of the people and too beholden to a tiny group of Oklahomans.”

Meanwhile Andrew C. Spiropoulos of the Oklahoma City University School of Law wrote a Journal Record op-ed advocating replacement of “the broken JNC appointment process and corrupting trial court elections” with a federal-style judicial selection system.

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Op-ed calls on Michigan to Reform Judicial Selection



Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly is returning to private practice less than five years after being elected to the Court. Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio’s political analyst, expressed concern over such resignations in a recent op-ed:

“To me, there’s something odd about that. Barring health or family reasons, I would think elected officials ought to feel an obligation to finish the term they asked the voters to give them. But resignations from the state’s highest court are fairly common, and what this means is that the governor will get to name a replacement for the third time in five years.”


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Editorial: Best Reform Goal in Ohio Would be Merit Selection

17950861-mmmainProposals by Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to combat public apathy over judicial elections don’t go far enough, and “Ideally, judges in Ohio would be appointed based on merit,” a editorial declares.

Her proposals include holding off-year elections, strengthening voter education outreach, and increasing experience requirements for judges. In the winter, reported that the proposals were not gaining much political momentum (see Gavel Grab).

“For many Ohioans, the most important elected official they will encounter is the judge ruling in their divorce, or in their dispute with their employer or on the criminal charge and potential prison term they are facing,” the editorial said. But judicial candidates “are often given short shrift” on Election Day, it said. The editorial was headlined, “Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor’s judicial-election reform ideas make sense, as far as they go.”

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Editorials Decry Politics in Virginia Judicial Selection

q3939641News reports that Virginia GOP legislators plan to remove a newly appointed state Supreme Court justice and elect their own pick (see Gavel Grab) were greeted by a firestorm of editorials denouncing politics in judicial selection.

Some of the editorials saw fit to hand Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, some of the blame as well as Republicans, but all of the editorials decried a mess that elected officials could have handled better in a nonpartisan or more reasonable manner. An editorial in the Virginian-Pilot recommended an appointive system, with confirmation by legislators, as an improvement over the legislature picking judges:

“Judicial selection has always been a back-room process, with politics inevitably factoring into the calculation. It’s one of the reasons that Virginia’s system should be changed to empower bar associations, or similarly qualified panels, to recommend a list of candidates from which the governor can nominate, and for lawmakers to confirm or reject the governor’s selection.”

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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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