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Archive for the 'Merit Selection' Category

Stepping Down From IN High Court, Justice Praises Merit Selection

Justice Dickson

Justice Dickson

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Brent Dickson, who is retiring from the bench at age 74, praised the state’s merit selection system for choosing top judges as promoting confidence in the judiciary.

“People can have confidence in the judiciary,” Dickson said, according to an Associated Press article. “Judges don’t have to appeal to lawyers to finance their campaign. In every way you look at it, in terms of public confidence in the judiciary and fair and unbiased decision-making, it’s the best system we’ve come up with so far.”

Dickson is a former Indiana Chief Justice. The Judicial Nominating Commission will interview applicants for his seat and recommend three finalists to Gov. Mike Pence, who will select Dickson’s successor.

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Editorial Casts its Vote for Merit Selection in Pennsylvania

An Erie Times-News editorial, discussing a proposal to raise the mandatory retirement ages of Pennsylvania judges (see Gavel Grab), casts its vote for another switch: for the merit-based selection of top state jurists.

“The truly wise step to take,” the editorial says, “would be for lawmakers to approve legislation supported by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts to create a merit system for appointing judges to the Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme courts.” The editorial also notes the support of PMC, a Justice at Stake partner organization, for the proposed constitutional amendment to raise judges’ retirement age.

“Those who want to raise the retirement age in Pennsylvania should step up for merit selection as well to enlist support from voters on the referendum,” the editorial concludes. Read more

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Arizona Governor Will Choose From Seven Finalists for Top Court

ArizonaThe Commission on Appellate Court Appointments has given Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey a list of seven finalists for an open seat on the state Supreme Court, more than the minimum of three that is required.

Ducey is a Republican. Four of the seven are Republicans. Under the state’s law for merit selection of judges, no more than two-thirds of the finalists suggested by the panel may be from one party. Ducey had asked for the commission to send him as many names as possible, according to the Arizona Daily Sun.

The recommended candidates are Court of Appeals Judges Kent Cattani, Andrew Gould, Samuel Thumma, and Lawrence Winthrop, all Republicans; attorney Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, an independent; and Court of Appeals Judges Michael Brown and Maurice Portley, who are Democrats. The commission did not forward the names of two other candidates whom it had interviewed.

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Liz Seaton in National Law Journal: Missouri Plan Still Strong

MO PlanSeventy-five years after its establishment as America’s original  judicial merit selection system, the Missouri Plan is going strong and setting a national example, according to an op-ed by Justice at Stake Interim Executive Director Liz Seaton.  The piece, published in the National Law Journal, marked the anniversary of the plan’s creation earlier this month.

Citing the “deluge of special-interest cash flooding into” contested judicial elections, Seaton notes that the “strongest established check against these threats is a method of choosing ­judges called ‘merit selection.’ It’s modeled after the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, approved in November 1940 by voters seeking selection of impartial, qualified judges who would be faithful to the rule of law.”

In the years since 1940, two dozen other states have adopted versions of the successful Missouri Plan for their highest courts.  Meanwhile, evidence has grown regarding “unintended harms of contested judicial elections, harms that go deeper than just the growing importance of cash in these races,” according to Seaton.  These include negative effects on diversity on the bench, as well as serious concerns about the fairness of criminal proceedings in state courts when judges in contested elections must run as “tough on crime.” Read more

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Alaska Gets Top Grade for ‘Judicial Accountability’ in Study

alaskaflagpicture2Alaska, employing a merit system for choosing judges, grabbed the highest score in a national study that ranked states for judicial accountability. The Center for Public Integrity analysis, entitled 2015 State Integrity Investigation, was carried by KTUU in Alaska.

Alaska received a B- grade, the highest score in the nation, for judicial accountability, KTUU said. It turned to Vic Fischer, who was a delegate to the state’s 1955-1956 constitutional convention, for an explanation:

“When the delegates gathered at that long-ago Constitutional Convention, they wanted to create an accountable judiciary that was responsive to the people while being insulated from undue influence. The result was ‘a merit-based system that was isolated as much as possible from politics and money,’ Fischer said.”

Read more

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Pittsburgh Editorial: Give Merit Selection a Try

At a time Pennsylvania’s appellate judiciary has fallen into disgrace, the legislature must seriously consider a bipartisan proposal for replacing partisan contested election of judges with merit selection, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial says.

In the state Supreme Court election just completed, three new justices were chosen amid $16.5 million in spending that set a national record, the editorial notes. “Does all that money get Pennsylvania the best judges?” it asks. “Not necessarily.”

The editorial points to scandals around two former justices and allegations targeting a sitting justice. “The reputation of Pennsylvania’s appellate judiciary is a disgrace, which is a good reason to try another method of selecting jurists,” it says. The editorial recommends that legislators give “serious consideration” to a proposal for a 13-member judicial vetting committee that recommends appeals judge candidates to the governor for appointment, subject to state Senate confirmation. Read more

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Commentary on Alaska Judicial Council Opposes Revamp

Alaska-quarterAlaska Gov. Bill Walker’s recent appointment to the Alaska Judicial Council of Loretta Bullard draws praise in a commentary, which also takes issue with a proposal to revamp the membership of this judicial candidate screening commission.

Nicole Borromeo, general counsel for the Alaska Federation of Natives, wrote the commentary. Borromeo commends Bullard’s serving for two decades as president of Kawerak, Inc., an Alaska regional Native non-profit corporation, and says Bullard is highly qualified Native woman for selection to the Judicial Council.

In addition. Borromeo contends Senate Joint Resolution 3 is “a bad proposal because it would  politicize the appointment of individuals to serve on the Alaska Judicial Council and likely also politicize the nomination of individuals to be considered for various judgeships.” Read more

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JAS Salutes 75th Anniversary of The Missouri Plan

MO-PlanThe Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, better known in the fair-courts field as “The Missouri Plan” for merit-based selection of judges, turned 75 today, and Justice at Stake saluted the milestone:

“America’s original judicial merit selection plan turns 75 today,” said JAS Interim Executive Director Liz Seaton. “For three-quarters of a century, the Missouri Plan has served its state well, and today two dozen states use this system to select qualified judges for their highest courts. As contested judicial elections become costlier and more politicized every year, it’s time to take a close look at merit selection’s success in limiting financial and political influence in judicial selection and recognize the potential value of the Missouri Plan to other states struggling to keep their courts insulated from big-money politics and special interest pressures.”

The approval of the Missouri Plan in 1940 was a rejection of Democratic machine politics by citizens who were tired of the bitter partisanship and intense financial interests involved in the traditional method of electing judges. Instead, they favored a system that would appoint judges based on qualifications and experience and ensure that those selected would remain impartial and respect the rule of law.

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Florida Judicial Term Limit Proposal Advances

Florida_quarter,_reverse_side,_2004“A measure aimed at asking voters to impose two-term limits on Florida Supreme Court justices and appellate judges made its way Tuesday through a House panel — but still faces a long route through the Legislature,” according to a report in The Palm Beach Post.

The move was described as blatantly political by The Tampa Tribune.  “The proposal comes after years of rising anger in the Legislature at members of the Supreme Court,” the paper noted, adding that “the state’s highest court has emerged as the only major hurdle in Tallahassee to Republicans’ conservative agenda.”

The Tribune goes on to note an unsuccessful effort to defeat three members of the court majority — R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — in the 2012 elections.  That year also saw an unsuccessful effort to weaken the state’s merit selection system by requiring state Senate confirmation of Supreme Court nominees.  The measure was defeated.

Florida’s Supreme Court justices and District Court of Appeals judges would be affected if the change were to be adopted, according to The Miami Herald.    If the measure gains approval in the state House and Senate, it would be put before voters on the November 2016 ballot.

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Video: Is ‘Justice for Sale’ in Pennsylvania Court Election?

Video from The American Law Journal

Video from The American Law Journal

Big spending in judicial elections and the negative advertising that it sometimes fuels are getting more attention in the final weeks of a high-stakes election for three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

A YouTube video by The American Law Journal examines the latest developments in the contest, allegations of porn email involving a sitting Supreme Court justice, and legislation that would end elections of top judges and adopt a merit-based selection system. The video is titled, “Electing Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judges: Justice for Sale?”

And a 90.5 WESA article about the politics of the state Supreme Court races says, “With new attack ads airing regularly, many wonder what effect large monetary campaign donations are having on the race.” A Read more

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