Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Selection Reform' Category

Retired Justice Boehm Finds Problems in Judicial Selection Plan

In an opinion piece for the Indiana Business Journal, Ted Boehm, a retired Indiana Supreme Court Justice, highlights what he considers hidden problems in a newly proposed plan for picking Marion County judges (see Gavel Grab for background).

While backing certain objectives of the plan, Boehm describes the commission’s proposed capacity to determine whether judges are qualified to stand for retention as “unwise, if not unconstitutional,” that would in effect “authorize the commission to remove sitting judges.”

The proposed commission will be bipartisan, with members selected by Democratic and Republican legislators and party leaders. But Boehm says this will only exacerbate the problem because it will mean the “power to remove and appoint judges lies in the hands of political appointees.” Read more

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Opinions Raise Hard Questions About Electing Judges

VOTERThere’s no let-up in continuing controversy over popular election of state judges, as recent opinion pieces from Nebraska and Arkansas indicate. They provide intriguing views from one state (Nebraska) that uses a merit-based system to choose judges and one (Arkansas) that uses elections.

An Omaha World-Herald editorial is titled, “Leave judges out of politics,” and it argues vigorously against proposed legislation (see Gavel Grab) to switch to judicial elections.  It says Alexander Hamilton eloquently asserted the importance of judges steering free of outside influences. Turning to current times, it continues, “Electing judges would move Nebraska away from that needed independence, tying them to political campaigns and campaign donors.”

In The Times-Record, meanwhile, independent journalist Steve Brawner says disturbing questions about judges’ impartiality are almost inevitable as spending on judicial elections in Arkansas surges and they become more politicized. Such questions have been highlighted by a recent newspaper series (see Gavel Grab), he says, adding that consideration of a merit selection process like one pioneered by Missouri might be a better idea. His column is headlined, “Still want to elect justices?”

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Editorial Praises KS Vote Against Dumping Merit Selection

kansassupremeNow that the Kansas House (see Gavel Grab) has scuttled a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way state Supreme Court justices are chosen, it’s time to bury the issue for the “foreseeable future,” a Lawrence Journal-World editorial says.

The proposal was engineered more by lobbying groups and elected officials including the governor, than did it dervie from any groundswell of public sentiment, the editorial contends. “A bipartisan group of Kansas legislators don’t think the system needs to be changed, and there is no reason to think that Kansas voters disagree with that assessment,” it notes.

The editorial’s headline declares: “Positive inaction/The failure to move forward on changes to the state’s judicial selection system is one of those times when the Kansas Legislature should be congratulated for what it didn’t do.” The proposal was to dump the merit selection of Supreme Court justices and give the governor outright appointment authority, subject to state Senate confirmation. Read more

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JAS Supports Bill to End Election of MD Circuit Court Judges



Justice at Stake submitted testimony on Thursday in support of a Maryland bill to end the election of Circuit Court judges, while urging several steps to strengthen the measure.

“All across the country, a new culture of judicial politics has emerged,” Interim JAS Executive Director Liz Seaton said in the testimony submitted to a state Senate panel. “State courts, the institutions whose legitimacy is most reliant on public confidence, have been undermined by record-shattering contributions to judicial candidates, unprecedented influence from outside organizations … and alarming instances of political intimidation and politicization from the executive and legislative branches,” she said.

“Campaign money should not be a factor in selecting judges, and merit selection systems reduce the influence of this money on the courts.”  The legislation provides for gubernatorial appointment of Circuit Court judges, subject to state Senate confirmation. Read more

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Assault on Merit Selection of Kansas Justices Falls Short

stock-footage-kansas-flag-loopBULLETIN: A proposed constitutional amendment to change the way Kansas Supreme Court justices are chosen failed on Thursday when the House voted 68-54 to approve it, falling short of the two-thirds vote necessary, The Associated Press reported

With Republicans divided, the Kansas House cast a 69-53 preliminary vote on Wednesday in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment to dump the merit selection of state Supreme Court justices. The vote fell 15 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for the measure to move to the state Senate. A final House vote was expected today.

“We need to increase the power of the people to select a third co-equal branch of state government,” urged Rep. James Todd, a Republican leading the pro-change faction. The proposal would scuttle a nonpartisan screening commission and give the governor direct appointment authority, subject to state Senate confirmation. As critics of the court have grown increasingly unhappy with certain court rulings, they have pushed for a change in the selection method.

“Just a year ago, our governor was quoted in the Topeka Capital-Journal as saying that we need to ‘change the way we select judges so we can get judges who vote the way we want them to,’” said Democratic Rep. John Carmichael, according to The Lawrence Journal-World.  “That is the epitome of the wrong attitude for judicial selections. We don’t select judges who will vote the way we want them to. We select the brightest, the best, folks who have judgment, and let them make important decisions.” Read more

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South Carolina Legislature Elects New Judge for High Court


BULLETIN: The South Carolina legislature elected Judge John Few, head of the state Court of Appeals, to serve on the state Supreme Court, The State newspaper reported on Thursday.

Under a bill pre-filed in the South Carolina legislature, the state would shift from its method of having the legislature elect judges, to popular election of jurists. South Carolina is one of only two states where legislatures elect state jurists.

But that proposed overhaul doesn’t appear to be gaining traction, according to, and a narrower reform is getting attention now. It would permit a judicial screening committee to recommend all qualified candidates for a judgeship, as opposed to no more than three.

A recent WBTW article reported on vigorous debate over the proposal for popular election of state judges. Said its Republican sponsor, Rep. Chris Corley,  “I feel like the [existing] system’s fundamentally corrupt.” He explained, “Number one, it’s corrupt when you have attorney-legislators who walk in the courtroom and they’ve elected that judge. Number two, it’s corrupt when it’s used basically as a barter system within the legislature.” Read more

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KS House to Vote on Dumping Judicial Vetting Commission

Political partisans are gaming the system in Kansas in hopes of giving the governor “inordinate power over the Kansas Supreme Court,” a Hutchinson News commentary by Jason Probst warns on the eve of a state House vote on changing the way justices are selected.

When Attorney General Derek Schmidt briefed state legislators on Tuesday about a death-sentence case in which the state high court was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court (see Gavel Grab), the case  was “used again to inflame lawmakers’ emotions in the hope that they will support a bill that will come to a vote on Thursday,” Probst writes. Read more

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Action Ahead to Revamp Judicial Selection in Kansas?

Capitol-from-NWHouse Republican leaders in Kansas plan to gauge support this week for proposals that could give the governor more influence in selecting state Supreme Court justices, the Associated Press reported.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has called the current merit selection process for Kansas justices undemocratic, but defenders of fair and impartial courts say he and his conservative allies are trying to fashion a high court that is more to their liking.

Last year, a House committee approved two competing proposals to change judicial selection, teeing them up for possible consideration by the full House. One would adopt partisan election of the justices, while the other would eliminate a judicial screening commission and make the governor’s appointments subject to state Senate confirmation.

In the Arkansas City Traveler, meanwhile, an op-ed by Mark Krusor, attorney for Cowley County, urges, “Let’s keep politics out of our courts.” Citing spending data compiled by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, Krusor writes, “Kansans don’t want outside special interests and the national political parties determining who is protecting our rights on our Kansas Supreme Court.”

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Bills Introduced for Popular Election of Hawaii Judges

2008_HI_ProofIn still another state, a legislature is being asked to overhaul a merit selection system for choosing judges. In this case, Hawaii legislators are being asked to change the law to allow popular election of judges, who would be subject to the consent of the state Senate for serving subsequent terms.

Honolulu Civil Beat reports that bills have been introduced in both chambers of the legislature to study and enable elimination of the judicial selection commission that now screens and recommends judicial candidates for appointment, and to allow for popular election of judges. Currently,  the governor appoints appellate and circuit court judges, and the Chief Justice appoints district and family court judges. The state Senate must confirm the appointees. Read more

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Judicial Selection Proposal for IN County Gets More Criticism

A proposal for a committee to both screen applicants and then appoint judges in Indiana’s largest county is generating criticism that it would be politicized, The Indianapolis Star reports. Marion County, the jurisdiction, is home for the state capital in Indianapolis.

“Judges aren’t politicians, and they need to be insulated from political pressure,” Julia Vaughn of Common Cause Indiana said, quoting U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. “The courts in Marion County have jurisdiction over a lot of statewide policy issues. Why is it that the General Assembly needs to have such control over the Marion County courts?” Read more

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