Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category
Kansas legislators, locked in disagreement with the judiciary over public school funding, are finding “new ways each week to show contempt for Kansas’ courts” with legislation to bully them, a Lawrence Journal-World editorial says.
In addition to court funding legislation, a litany of other intimidation attempts includes, according to the editorial, “pending bills to lower justices’ mandatory retirement age and to replace the Kansas Court of Appeals with separate civil and criminal appellate courts. Waiting in the wings: proposed constitutional amendments that, if approved by the Legislature and voters, would have Kansas switch to direct partisan election of appellate judges, allow recall elections of judges statewide and make it harder for Supreme Court justices to survive retention votes.”
The editorial says what Kansans ought to be concerned about is how “the troubling lack of respect shown by one branch of state government for another … might lead to further assaults on the funding, authority and independence of the state judiciary. The courts must have all three in order to serve Kansans and justice properly.”
For years, reformers have talked about removing Texas judges from a straight-ticket party voting process (see Gavel Grab). This week, a bill to do exactly that got a frosty reception in a Texas House Committee, according to the Texas Tribune.
From both parties, critics said that tampering with the ballot could confuse voters and dampen turnout. “I think we should be encouraging people to vote, not discouraging people to vote,” said state Rep. Travis Clardy, a Republican.
Among reformers who have voiced support for the bill is former Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, mentioning the problems he sees with partisan judicial elections: “One of the big problems is that it really confuses the public into thinking there is a material difference in a judge who is a Republican and a judge who is a Democrat,” Jefferson said. “The second, it removes judges from office, not based on how diligent they are, they’re removed just because they’re in the wrong political party.”
It’s high time for California to consider appointing Superior Court judges instead of electing them, says a San Jose Mercury News editorial. Naming names, it points to the examples of one “clueless judge” and one “smart one who telegraphs bias.”
The editorial says that “Through no fault of their own, voters have little basis upon which to identify the best candidate in a judicial campaign.” It adds, “And personality traits that may charm voters do not necessarily equate to great judicial material.”
The editorial notes that when the governor fills interim vacancies, applicants “are thoroughly vetted on a range of judicial qualities.” By contrast, it says, “Some attorneys who run in local elections would not make it through the review for an appointment regardless of political party.”
Will tensions between the legislative and judicial branches over public education funding in Kansas lead to a constitutional clash? A New York Times article examines that question against a backdrop of the governor’s seeking more power over selection of Supreme Court justices.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-led legislature championed a new, close to $4 billion funding plan that, according to the Times, “cut tens of millions of dollars in aid intended to close disparities between rich and poor districts.” The legislation passed “even as a three-judge panel hinted that it might stay the measure while it determines whether the Legislature was breaching its financial obligations. Republican leaders have denounced the court as overstepping its bounds.”
Meanwhile Brownback and legislators have been pushing to dismantle a merit selection system for choosing state Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab). One alternative proposes a Washington-style system allowing direct appointment by the governor with confirmation by the state Senate. Read more
Gavel to Gavel reports that Nevada is the third state this session to see a push towards eliminating certain judicial elections, after Oregon and Maryland.
Under current law, Nevada District (general jurisdiction) Court judges are elected to six-year terms in nonpartisan elections, and interim vacancies are filled by the governor from a list compiled by the Commission on Judicial Selection. The bill would replace this system with a version of merit selection, whereby the Commission would send the list directly to Nevada’s lower chamber to make a selection, eliminating the governor’s role entirely. If a judge wishes to remain on the bench as a term comes to an end, he or she would be required to resubmit his or her name to the Commission for consideration, without any guarantees.
As Nevada’s legislature only meets every other year, “the Assembly would have the power to convene itself out-of-session to handle the judicial appointments,” the article explains. The bill would also extend these judicial terms to 8 years. Gavel to Gavel is a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization.
A proposed constitutional amendment to switch from nonpartisan election of Arkansas Supreme Court justices to a merit-based selection system appears to be going nowhere soon.
According to Arkansas Online, state representatives and senators couldn’t agree on any proposed constitutional amendments to refer to voters in 2016, and legislative leaders said no constitutional amendments will appear on the ballot then. A merit selection proposal (see Gavel Grab) was among those on which there was no concurrence.
It was the first time in decades that Arkansas legislators will not be referring any proposed constitutional amendments for voters to decide.
Former Kansas Gov. John Carlin has warned that the state, weighing changes to the way state Supreme Court justices are chosen, must be aware of a 1950s political scandal that fueled reform and the led to the current system.
At his blog, Carlin wrote that “The public outrage that followed” the scandal, called the “triple play of 1956,” ultimately “led to the voters adopting a constitutional amendment for merit selection, giving us the Supreme Court Nominating Commission we have today.” The legislature is debating proposals to dump the screening commission and replace it with direct appointment by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation, or contested elections (see Gavel Grab). Carlin wrote: Read more
West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a bill this week that would make many judicial elections in the state nonpartisan.
According to the Associated Press, the bipartisan bill would make elections nonpartisan for the “Supreme Court, magistrates, circuit courts and family courts” starting in May. The Senate has until the session ends on March 14th to fix the bill and send it back to Governor Tomblin. The veto was the fifth this year over “technical errors.”
The Kansas Senate voted 31 to 9 to confirm Kathryn Gardner to the state Court of Appeals, at the same time the Senate’s leading Democrat voiced concerns about using a Washington-style model for selecting judges.
Former federal court law clerk Gardner was Gov. Sam Brownback’s second nominee under the Washington-style process adopted by the legislature for picking Court of Appeals judges, supplanting a merit selection system. The legislature now is considering whether to dismantle merit selection for state Supreme Court justices.
“Merit-based selections of judicial appointments ensure qualified candidates for our judiciary. The federal model ensures partisan outcomes,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, according to a Topeka Capital-Journal article. Read more
Recent legislation proposed in Oklahoma prompted one editor to give her readers a history lesson. In the Tulsa World article, Julie DelCour outlines a Supreme Court scandal that rocked the state and how some proposed legislation could reverse successful reform measures.
While serving a federal sentence for tax evasion, former Justice N.S. Corn decided to confess to his role in systematic corruption within Oklahoma’s highest court. His revelations forced the resignation of one justice, the impeachment of another and caused one attorney to be convicted of bribery. “Reform occurred in spite of resistance from those seeking to maintain the status quo,” DelCour explains. That reform has kept the Oklahoma judiciary relatively clean; since the judicial nominating commission was formed in 1969 only two nominated judges have been forcibly removed from office.