Archive for the 'Merit Selection' Category
Reflecting 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
Merit-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.
Proposals 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 Cleveland.com editorial declares.
Her proposals include holding off-year elections, strengthening voter education outreach, and increasing experience requirements for judges. In the winter, Cleveland.com 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.”
Oklahoma’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.)
Citizens 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.”
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
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
As Pennsylvania legislators consider a new bill to do away with elections of appellate judges and replace them with merit selection, NewsWorks has quoted Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg about how merit systems can help.
Merit selection “has worked well in a couple dozen states for awhile now. It most of the time has reduced the political mischief and the kind of big money Pennsylvania has seen,” Brandenburg said, according to NewsWorks, the online home of WHYY news in Philadelphia.
Commission members have largely succeeded in focusing on quality in vetting judicial candidates, he said. “[Members] may have their own political background, but they tend to check it at the door. It’s very important for any commission to establish a culture where that happens. In Arizona, for example … they actually broadcast the proceedings on the Internet, people can watch and see that people actually are checking their politics.” Brandenburg added, “In the end, that’s what you want — a quality judge, appointed without political games, and a commission that’s properly diverse and properly transparent.” Read more
A Scranton Times-Tribune editorial has joined a growing chorus of endorsements (see Gavel Grab) for a proposal that Pennsylvania adopt a merit-selection plan to replace contested elections for appellate judges.
The level of politics in judicial elections, the editorial said, is “particularly troubling at the appellate level this year.” It referred to the state political parties’ deep interest in winning three open seats on the state Supreme Court, which is likely to weigh new legislative redistricting maps in the future. The editorial concluded about the proposed constitutional amendment for merit selection:
“It’s too late for an amendment to be in place this year, in that an amendment requires approval in two consecutive legislative sessions and then by statewide referendum. But it’s never too late to start the process of creating a system for appellate judges that places independence and professionalism above politics.”
Legislation known as the “look-back” bill in Rhode Island would broaden Gov. Gina Raimondo’s range of choice for judicial appointments. Raimondo would be able to “pick judicial nominees from lists forwarded by the Judicial Nominating Commission over the previous five years,” as reported by Providence Journal.
The newspaper reported that if the bill were not to pass, “the governor could choose a nominee only from the current list of three-to-five finalists submitted by the Judicial Nominating Commission” under the state’s existing merit selection process.
Common Cause Rhode Island has called this measure “an end-run past the merit-selection process.” John Marion, Common Cause’s executive director, stated that allowing so many candidates “allows politics to creep in.”
The full House was to take the bill up on Thursday. If passed, the legislation will head over to the Senate.