Archive for the 'Merit Selection' Category
In a lengthy editorial about the need for reform of the municipal court system in Missouri, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch praises the state’s merit selection system for choosing top judges.
The editorial notes prominently that former Missouri chief justice Edward D. “Chip” Robertson Jr. is a member of a working group assigned to study the municipal court system and recommend any needed fixes. It salutes Judge Robertson as one who fought valiantly to defend the “Missouri Plan,” as the merit system is called, from attacks:
“In states where judges run in partisan elections (and in circuit courts in outstate Missouri), their campaigns are funded by the very lawyers and corporations who have interests before them. A state Supreme Court race, as in Illinois, can cost millions. In fighting for the merit plan, Judge Robertson protected the integrity of the Missouri court.”
A proposal to revamp membership of the Alaska Judicial Council, in part by requiring the legislature to confirm all of its members, came under criticism this week from retired Alaska Supreme Court Justice Walter “Bud” Carpeneti.
Justice Carpeneti told the annual conference of the Alaska Bar Association that the proposal “would gravely threaten the fairness, the independence and the excellence of our courts” and open the door to “the kinds of abuses never seen here before, but unfortunately all too common in the other states,” according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
He and Vic Fischer, a former delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention, said they feared the proposal would emphasize politics over justice. The council serves dual roles in Alaska’s merit-based judicial selection system, as both a judicial nominating commission and a judicial performance evaluation board. To learn more about the proposal that is before the legislature, see Gavel Grab for background.
In the wake of a Supreme Court decision about fundraising in judicial elections, more analysts are suggesting the only way to eliminate outside influence is to do away with judicial elections entirely.
In Williams-Yulee vs. The Florida Bar, the high court upheld a Florida ban on judicial candidates directly soliciting campaign money. Kendra Fershee, a law professor at West Virginia University, told the West Virginia Record that the ruling “attempts to maintain a firewall between judges and donors, and attempts to maintain some level of ethical clarity.” She added, “But really, as long as we have judicial elections, this system is going to be very imperfect.”
The 5-4 decision, with the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, has drawn widespread commentary.
The Philadelphia Daily News editorialized in favor of a switch to merit selection for judges. “Begging for, and receiving, money can compromise the neutrality and independence of judicial candidates – to say nothing of compromising justice itself,” it said. Read more
A proposal in the North Carolina legislature to make judicial elections partisan moves in the wrong direction because steps should be taken to remove politics from the courtroom, Tom Campbell writes in a Greenville Daily Reflector op-ed.
Campbell is a former assistant state treasurer. He concludes, “The verdict is in. The current system isn’t serving us well and we are increasingly convinced that electing appellate judges isn’t the best way to get the best judges. Partisan judicial elections only make them more political. We should take politics out of the courtroom as much as possible in order to assure better jurisprudence.” Read more
A debate over the best way to select state Supreme Court justices in Arkansas is being renewed, following remarks by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, that it’s time to rethink the current method of popular election (see Gavel Grab).
The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorialized this week about a possible switch to an appointive system, “Appointments increase the likelihood that the law, not political concerns, will be the dominant influence on rulings, and we like that. But they are not a cure-all for the court’s challenges. In-depth study is the right path before this state up-ends its justice system. Let’s make sure we know what we’re getting before we say ‘yes’ to reducing the electorate’s voice.”
A different view came from an editorial at Arkansas Online, saying, “The regularly (and wisely) rejected idea of appointing the members of this state’s highest courts–instead of electing them–has shown up again.”
With a Pennsylvania Supreme Court election spending free-for-all in sight this year, a bipartisan legislative duo is seeking backers for legislation to switch to merit-based selection of appellate judges.
“Appellate court judges would no longer be chosen based on their ballot position, campaign fundraising abilities, or where they live,” Republican Rep. Bryan Cutler and Democratic Rep. Madeline Dean said in a joint memo, according to the Allentown Morning Call. “Judicial candidates would no longer be required to engage in a process that leaves them seemingly beholden to wealthy lawyers and special interest groups who might appear before them in court.” Read more
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas told a local Bar group that he believes it is time to rethink the popular election of appellate judges, adding, “I am willing to give that some gubernatorial support.”
“I’m committed to developing a different system of selection of our appellate judges and working with the Legislature as to the best way to address that challenge,” he said, according to Arkansas News Bureau and nwaonline.com accounts.
While he did not endorse a proposed constitutional amendment for merit selection of Arkansas Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab), which failed to advance in the legislature this year, Hutchinson said the proposal would be a starting point.
The Associated Press reported, “Hutchinson interested in merit selection for judges.” It quoted Hutchinson as saying his interest in potential judicial selection reform did not have anything to do with the current state Supreme Court.
Lamenting massive individual donations to judicial campaigns, a Towanda (Pa.) Daily Review editorial says it’s time for the legislature to consider switching to merit selection for picking Pennsylvania appellate judges.
“No system is perfect and merit selection would not be immune from politics. It would, however, instantly eliminate the need to raise money while seeking an appellate court seat, thus precluding the potential ethical mine fields that campaign donations create for judges,” the editorial said.
The editorial mentioned that Judge Mike George of Adams County, one of 12 candidates running for three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, received a $500,000 donation from one individual, who listed himself as a teacher in Maryland. Read more
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner probably couldn’t prove his remark this week that the state Supreme Court is part of a “corrupt” system (see Gavel Grab), a Chicago Sun-Times editorial says, but cynicism is bred by the millions of dollars flowing into judicial elections and reform ought to be considered.
“Merit selection of judges, the favored alternative of reformers, eliminates the need to raise campaign funds,” the editorial points out. “Judges are beholden to nobody’s wallet. Merit systems usually involve a commission that produces a list of qualified names from which political leaders or voters select new judges.”
The editorial slams sums poured into recent judicial races that “would embarrass a bagman from the 1980s Operation Greylord court scandal,” and it concludes, “From cases of petty crime to big constitutional questions, judicial decisions go down better with the public when there is no checkbook in the courtroom.” 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.