Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category
Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss cites a former Texas Chief Justice in his argument for keeping the merit selection system for Kansas Supreme Court judges.
In an op-ed in The Wichita Eagle, Nuss notes that the Kansas legislative and executive branches have expresses admiration for many things “Texan,” which might have something to do with the attempts to eliminate merit selection.
Chief Justice Nuss agrees with an opinion piece co-authored by former Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, who has “firsthand, conservative-credentialed, in-depth knowledge of elections for Supreme Court justices.”
North Carolina is poised to become the ninth state to elect judges through partisan elections, according to an op-ed on newsobserver.com.
This proposal is the latest move to reverse reforms passed in 2002, which included nonpartisan elections and a public financing program. “The public financing program gave candidates a few hundred thousand dollars to campaign, if they qualified by raising small donations. The 2002 bill was a bipartisan effort, and judges across the ideological spectrum lauded public financing,” the op-ed notes. Last year, the legislature repealed the public financing measure, and the appellate court campaigns spent nearly $5 million together.
A bill filed in West Virginia’s House would create the first-in-the-nation public financing program for judicial elections at the trial level, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts.
Sen. Mike Romano of Harrison County said recently, according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, “The time has come to look at public financing for our judges. It’s worked well in our Supreme Court and it does take some of the influence of big money out of the most important office in our state.” West Virginia has a public financing program for state Supreme Court elections. Read more
Kansas legislators ought to resist “ruining a Supreme Court selection process with a 57-year record of judicial independence and impartiality,” a Wichita Eagle editorial declares about proposals to dump merit selection for choosing the justices.
Whether through direct appointment by the governor or through contested elections, two alternatives proposed to merit selection, the measures would politicize the high court, says the editorial. In the first instance, it says, Kansans could get a court “whose members were chosen for political pedigree rather than legal knowledge and experience,” or in the second, a court dragged down into “partisan muck.” Read more
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, a Republican, has begun lobbying Kansas legislators to advocate jettisoning a merit selection process for choosing Supreme Court justices and replacing it with a Washington-style appointment model.
The Kansas City Star quoted a Roberts spokesman as saying “Sen. Roberts thinks Kansas needs a more democratic process for selecting justices.” One legislator for whom Roberts left a voicemail, Republican state Rep. Susan Concannon, said the senator’s call hadn’t changed her opinion.
Last week, Dan Glickman, a Democrat and former U.S. House member from Kansas, wrote an op-ed (see Gavel Grab) extolling the democratic virtues of the existing method. Legislation that has advanced from a state House committee proposes a constitutional amendment for either the Washington-style model or for direct, contested elections of justices. Read more
Dan Glickman, a former U.S. Representative from Kansas, issued a defense of merit selection of state Supreme Court justices. In a Wichita Eagle op-ed, Glickman said “the legal business climate of state courts,” ranked fifth by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is strengthened by merit selection.
Moreover, he says implementing the federal system for selecting justices “would consign Supreme Court appointments to closed door, backroom politics.” Political courts, he continues, have not been successful on any level:
“… [I]f Kansas political leaders considered the partisan breakdown in our nation’s capital, they might reconsider their embrace of a Washington-style system for choosing judges. And New Jersey, a state using the federal-style system for judicial nominations, experienced such partisan gridlock that a high number of vacant judgeships in the state’s busiest county forced the suspension of complex civil trials several years ago.”
A 2014 change in Kansas Supreme Court authority is being challenged in the courts as more significant changes advance in the state House.
The Associated Press reports that two bills to change how Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected sailed through the House Judiciary Committee on Monday. The proposals would make the process more political, either implementing a Federal System of direct gubernatorial appointment subject to state Senate approval, or partisan elections.
A state House committee has approved rival proposals to dump the merit-based selection of Kansas Supreme Court justices, yet questions linger as to whether either would command the two-thirds support needed to pass the full chamber.
One of the proposals would institute contested, partisan elections for the state’s highest court. The other would give the governor unilateral appointment authority, subject to confirmation by the state Senate, in a process similar to the Washington-style model of judicial selection.
Critics of the existing system contend it is undemocratic given that lawyers comprise a majority of members on the screening commission for court applicants, according to the Associated Press. The system’s defenders say the proposals would politicize judicial selection, and that Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies want to exert more control over choosing top judges. Read more
Arkansas judicial selection was a topic of debate last week, as a reform bill was filed in the state House and legal experts discussed some less sweeping reforms.
The Times Record explained that the bill, which would eliminate direct election of Supreme Court justices and institute a merit selection system, has not gained widespread support yet. According to the article, former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Robert Brown said both systems have “strengths and weaknesses,” but he prefers elections. Still, Brown says some reforms are needed to restore public faith in the judiciary.
“I think, frankly, we are undergoing a crisis as far as the judiciary and public respect for the judiciary,” Brown said.
As Kansas legislators debate changes to judicial selection, many legal experts are expressing their support for the current system (See Gavel Grab for background). Chief Judge Merlin Wheeler and Ken Buchele joined in the chorus Wednesday at an event held by the League of Women Voters, reported on by the Emporia Gazette.
Buchele, a former member of judicial nominating commissions, explained that one proposed change, partisan election of judges, may cause judges to show bias to campaign donors:
“If you were in a lawsuit with a large company and you thought you had been wronged in a situation and a lawsuit was filed, and you walked into a courtroom and the person sitting on the bench, the judge, had been elected by public election, the same way we elect on legislators and governor. And you knew that judge had had a very strong financial campaign gift from the guy that you are suing. Now what kind of situation would you feel that you were in?”
Both Judge Wheeler and Buchele encouraged people to reach out to their legislators, and embolden them to vote against all proposed changes. “They are in a tough position,” Buchele said. “They need a lot of support if they are going to buck the governor.”