Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Merit Selection' Category

Proposed Change to Judicial Selection Draws Concern in Alaska

alaskaflagpicture2At a recent Rotary Club event in Sitka, Alaska, a group called Justice Not Politics outlined its concerns over a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way judges are selected by revamping membership of the Alaska Judicial Council.

According to KCAW radio, former Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks also spoke about the meaning of judicial impartiality free of political pressure:

“And independence of the judiciary, to me, doesn’t mean independence to do what you want. You’re not independent as king. You can’t decide cases necessarily on what you want to have happen. And I regularly made decisions as a judge that, if I were king and making all the rules, I wouldn’t have made. But as a judge you make the decision based on the law that is there, and things that have happened before, not on your personal preferences necessarily. And independence means independence from the political process of deciding because you feel you owe something to someone, or you have a connection to some party that makes it best for you to do that.”

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Six Years Later, Justice Jefferson Still Quoted on Merit Selection

texas courtA Texas political reporter, in reminding his readers that state Supreme Court justices are elected officials, found it useful to quote then-Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson about his advocacy for a merit-based selection system to replace the elections.

“We should adopt a system for judges that has two primary components. Judges should achieve office by merit rather than whim, and voters should hold judges accountable, based on their records, through subsequent retention elections,” Jefferson said in 2009, according to the Houston Chronicle commentary by Bobby Cervantes. “When a judge’s victory is based on party over principle, money over merit, cynicism over the rule of law, voters lose.” Read more

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Editorial: Fracas Shows Why Virginia Needs Merit Selection

Seal_of_Virginia.svgVirginia Republicans have embarrassed themselves by holding “an eminent jurist hostage to … partisanship,” a Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial said, calling again for the state to move to merit selection of its judges.

The editorial reflected on a recent backlash by Republicans after Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe named Justice Jane Marum Roush as an interim appointee (see Gavel Grab). The Republicans said they would dump her and not elect her to the Virginia Supreme Court once the interim term expired. However, there is some speculation now that the GOP might change its mind and elect her in January, the editorial said.

Legislators elect judges in Virginia except when the General Assembly is not in session. The editorial said that “the broader lesson teaches Virginia that the commonwealth must move to merit selection of judges,” an opinion the newspaper editorial page expressed more fully last week (Gavel Grab has background). 

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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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Legislatures Have Taken Aim at Merit Selection in 2015

justice-scalesMerit-based systems for choosing state judges have come under assault around the country this year. “Major changes failed to pass” but the efforts signal where legislatures likely will be active next year, Gavel to Gavel reports.

Gavel to Gavel is a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization. The state-by-state rundown shows that out of the 17 state merit selection systems reviewed, only seven had no attempts to alter their systems. The study examines attempts to change, alter or end merit selection systems. 

Kansas ranked first as the state with the most efforts to change, alter or end the merit selection system (eight in total) with South Carolina coming in a close second with six attempts.

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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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State Rep Defends Merit Selection in OK

emily virginOklahoma’s merit selection system for choosing appellate court judges got a boost from State Representative Emily Virgin (left), on The Oklahoman’s NewsOK website. “Keeping partisan politics off the bench has served Oklahomans well for nearly 50 years,” she writes, in an op-ed headlined “Judicial selection system has served state well.” The piece refutes arguments made in a previous op-ed by another writer that the state’s judicial nomination commission is dominated by lawyers.

Rep. Virgin also notes that Oklahoma’s merit selection system was approved by the state’s voters back in 1967, in direct response to a 1965 bribery scandal.  That scandal resulted in the convictions or resignations of three Oklahoma Supreme Court justices.  “Election of Supreme Court justices, involving campaigns and political contributions, played a significant role in the court’s bribery scandal,” the op-ed points out.

The state’s merit selection system has come under political attack from time to time in recent years, most recently in response to a ruling by the state supreme court that a granite Ten Commandments marker must be removed from the Capitol grounds. (See Gavel Grab.)

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Official Urges Switch to Merit Selection for Picking MD Circuit Judges

md.flagCitizens of Maryland would be better served if the state switched from contested elections for Circuit Court judges to a merit selection system like that used for choosing appellate judges, a family law attorney who also is a state delegate wrote in The Washington Post.

Democratic Del. Kathleen M. Dumais said judicial elections are costly, often feature misleading advertising, typically leave voters poorly informed about ways to evaluate judicial candidates and the final ballot does not even state whether a candidate is a sitting judge.

“The most important and long overdue change in Maryland would be to select circuit court judges by merit instead of by election,” Dumais concluded. “This would protect our community and guarantee that our judges have the highest quality of character, integrity, judicial temperament and education.”

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Editorial: PA Merit Plan Would Bring ‘A Vast Improvement’

Another Pennsylvania editorial board is endorsing the proposed merit selection of appellate judges, this time warning that big spending on existing judicial elections for the state Supreme Court can erode public confidence in its integrity.

“With $5 million in contributions made to candidates in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court primary and some fearing far more, including out-of-state money, expected in the general election, the worry arises that special interests might have or at least appear to have undue influence over our highest court,” said the LancasterOnline editorial.  Read more

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Ex-Governors Push for Merit Selection Proposal in Pennsylvania

Former governors Ed Rendell, a Democrat, and Tom Ridge, a Republican, are advocating for Pennsylvania to adopt a merit selection system for choosing appellate judges. A new proposal for merit selection, to replace contested elections, was introduced in the legislature recently (see Gavel Grab).

“A merit selection system with citizen participation will elevate the justice system in Pennsylvania and take it out of the political and fundraising environment,” Rendell said, according to a Legal Intelligencer article that is available through searching by Google.

“State lawmakers must do what is right for our judicial system. We can’t allow time to continue to slip by with a system that needs to be fixed,” Ridge said. Read more

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