Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Merit Selection' Category

JAS Urges Hawaii Legislators to Preserve Merit Selection

2008_HI_ProofJustice at Stake submitted testimony on Wednesday urging the Hawaii Senate to preserve merit selection of judges. The legislature is weighing bills to pave the way for a constitutional amendment mandating judicial selection in contested elections (see Gavel Grab for background) instead.

“It would be a tremendous disservice to the citizens of Hawaii to do away with the merit selection system that has served the state well since 1978. Contested elections distort the basic fairness of courts and judicial decisionmaking, by opening the door to hardball politics and financial pressure in judicial selection,” JAS Interim Executive Director Liz Seaton said in a statement about the Hawaii legislation.

“Contrary to what proponents are saying, voters in several states have consistently — and by large margins — rejected efforts to politicize merit systems.”

Under a merit selection system, candidates apply to a nonpartisan commission that conducts interviews, reviews their records and recommends a shortlist o the most qualified candidates to the governor, who then appoints one of them. The system is used in 24 states and the District of Columbia to select judges for their highest courts.

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Diversity Bill Proposed for R.I. Judicial Nominating Commission

The Providence Journal reports that a bill outlining diversity requirements for the membership of Rhode Island’s Judicial Nominating Commission was submitted last week.

The measure, proposed by Democratic state Rep. Anastasia Williams, would require that the governor and lawmakers ensure that the membership reflects the gender and ethnic makeup of the state. According to the newspaper, “The nine-member panel currently has one member of color, Cheryl S. Haynes, a human resources executive with RBS Citizens Financial Group.” Read more

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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 Applauds Bipartisan Kansas Vote Affirming Merit Selection

kansassupremeWhen Kansas legislators rejected a proposed shift in the way state Supreme Court justices are selected, it was a “resounding victory for fair and impartial courts,” Justice at Stake Interim Executive Director Liz Seaton said on Thursday.

The state House rejected a bill to junk merit selection of the justices and place direct appointment authority in the governor’s hands, subject to state Senate confirmation (see Gavel Grab). Seaton said:

“We applaud today’s bipartisan vote by Kansas legislators affirming a judicial selection system that has worked well for the state Supreme Court for decades.

“Legislators voted against turning back the clock. Kansans want their judges selected based on qualifications, not partisan politics. This is a resounding victory for fair and impartial courts.

“Importantly, today’s vote also shows that lawmakers saw through efforts to discredit merit selection by partisans who were willing to play fast and loose with the facts. Contrary to the claims of some, Kansas is hardly alone in the way it chooses its top justices. Two dozen states and the District of Columbia use merit selection to choose judges for their highest courts, and many of those states also have a majority of attorneys serving on their nominating commissions.”

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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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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Debate Revived About Switch to Merit Selection in Arkansas

justice-scalesA renewed debate about replacing the election of top Arkansas judges with a merit-based appointive process seems to be gearing up.

An Associated Press article over the weekend was headlined, “Merit Selection of Arkansas Justices Gets New Look.” It said that receptive statements by Gov. Asa Hutchinson (see Gavel Grab),  a recent investigative series by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and controversy over outside spending in the state Supreme Court election two years ago could make merit selection a hot topic for the state legislature.

Republican state Rep. Matthew Shepherd, who in the past proposed a halt to popular election of Supreme Court justices, told AP, “There is no perfect system but I do think that when it comes to particularly my proposal and what I put forward, merit selection serves to better insulate the court from politics.” 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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Possible Judicial Selection Reform Gets Attention in Arkansas

arkansas_flag_web_fc1aArkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, says he sees “a growing interest” in looking at reforms for appointing, rather than electing, state Supreme Court justices. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said Hutchinson mentioned discussion of both the appointive-and-retention-election plan like Missouri’s and a system more like the federal model.

In addition, the Republican who chairs the state House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Matthew Shepherd, has introduced legislation for the merit selection of justices, the newspaper said in gathering varying points of view after publishing a series of articles on “Cash and the Court” (see Gavel Grab).

As the newspaper spoke to different legal experts and officials, it also reported discussion of possible revisions of the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct rules governing campaign contributions and court decisions. One of those concerned was retired Justice Robert Brown, who said ethics rules for elected justices may need changing. 

Elections will be held in Arkansas this year for chief justice and for one associate justice position.

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JAS Urges Merit Selection for Marion County, Indiana

A well-designed merit selection system would be the best approach for choosng fair and impartial judges in Marion County, Indiana’s largest county, Justice at Stake said on Wednesday in a letter submitted to the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

The panel was considering on Wednesday a bill “giving state lawmakers a strong hand in the nomination and appointment” of Marion County judges, The Indiana Lawyer reported. The 16-member commission for selecting judges would include eight lawmakers.

Debra Erenberg, JAS director of state affairs, voiced concern in the letter that the legislation “will jeopardize the ability of Marion County’s judges to remain fair and impartial.” The bill effectively puts the legislature in charge of the Marion County judicial selection process by designating lawmakers as chair and co-chair of the commission, her letter said, and “[t]his arrangement raises serious separation of powers issues.” Read more

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