Judicial elections, democratic appointment (e.g., senate confirmation), and the Missouri Plan (a/k/a "merit selection")

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Oklahoma Judicial Selection Reform Criticized

Tulsa World

The Tulsa World's Julie DelCour defends status quo against a bill that would remove the bar's power to pick members of the Judicial Nominating Commission: 

"All JNC members would become political appointees of the governor, the speaker of House and president pro tem of the Senate, essentially placing judges into a patronage system.
Removing lawyers, who are elected to the JNC by their peers in the Oklahoma Bar Association from each congressional district, makes absolutely no sense and creates a politically imbalanced panel."

I disagree with this for reasons articulated here and here
In Oklahoma, as in Missouri and Kansas, the issue basically comes down to bar politics vs. democratic politics.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New Jersey Judicial Selection

The Politics of Reappointing a Sitting Judge

According to Record columnist Charles Stiles, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is thinking about "dumping" New Jersey chief justice Stuart Rabner, "former friend and co-worker, from the Supreme Court in June."

"Christie has depicted Rabner’s court as the poster child of the liberal, 'activist' court he’s determined to change."

Stiles writes: "Christie may be using Rabner’s renomination as leverage in negotiations with Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who has clashed with Christie over the partisan balance of the court. Sweeney has refused to schedule confirmation hearings on Christie’s last two nominees, arguing that the governor is trying to upend the traditional 4-3 partisan balance of the court."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Oklahoma Judicial Selection Reform Continues to Progress

Oklahoma May Democratize its Judicial Nominating Commission

Latest from the Tulsa World explains:

"Currently, the six attorneys are elected to seats on the commission by members of the Oklahoma Bar Association. But a measure passed by the House Rules Committee would allow the speaker of the state House to appoint three of the attorneys and the president pro tem of the Senate to appoint three."

Previous week's update on Oklahoma judicial selection

Change to Virginia Judicial Selection?

Virginia one of only two states in which legislature selects top judges

Virginia and South Carolina are the only two states in which the legislature alone selects the state's highest court.  In about a dozen states the legislature, or one of house of it, shares the power to select the supreme court, with the governor and perhaps a nominating commission having some power as well.

This piece from the Virginian Pilot argues that Virginia's system "means judicial appointments can become patronage positions. Petty political disputes result in appointment holdups that burden the system. Qualified candidates face battles over issues irrelevant to their ability to serve."

The Pilot's editorial concludes "More than 30 other states have instituted hybrid systems in which a commission vets judicial candidates and then makes recommendations to the governor for appointment. Virginia should consider something similar."  The descriptive problem with this statement is that it overstates the number of states and the normative problem with this statement is that it lumps together states in with and without senate confirmation and states with and without special powers for the bar. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Alaska Judicial Selection Reform Stopped

Bill Raftery reports that this year's effort to reduce the role of the bar on the Alaska Judicial Council  "appears dead."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

British Perspective on Political Accountability of Judges

"Is There a Case for Greater Legislative Involvement in the Judicial Appointments Process?"

The Study of Parliament Group Paper No. 3, London by Alexander Horne.

It's abstract says "the UK’s top court is more frequently determining essentially socio-political questions. In the light of this expanding judicial role, this paper asks whether new mechanisms for increasing political accountability, such as a parliamentary confirmation procedure, are needed for appointment to the most senior judicial offices (including, but not limited to, the UK Supreme Court)."

"The research examines whether new methods of accountability could be introduced in the UK without impacting on judicial independence."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Oklahoma Senate Passes Bill to Reduce Bar's Role on Nominating Commission

SB 1988 as Bill Raftery summarizes would "vacate all current judicial nomination commission members selected by Oklahoma State bar" and end "the Oklahoma Bar’s power to name any future attorney members to judicial nominating commissions and provides instead the House and Senate leaders are to name the attorney members."  Sounds like a bill to bring democratic legitimacy to the nominating commission process often called Missouri Plan or merit selection.  Unsurprisingly, the bar is opposed to a reduction in its power:  "Reforms are not needed for a system attorneys and judges said is not broken."

Monday, April 7, 2014

Important North Carolina Supreme Court Races

Four of the seven seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court are up for election this year.

This passage from the News Observer gives a flavor for some non-partisan judicial elections:

 "Lewis, an N.C. Central University law school alumna who has clerked for Democrat Dan Blue when he was speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives, campaigns as a Republican in the nonpartisan race...Though judicial races are nonpartisan, the field of three will be narrowed during the primary election.  Republican Party leaders have said they are considering endorsing candidates this year in the statewide judicial races."

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/04/3759010/nc-supreme-court-races-draw-political.html#storylink=cpy

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mandatory Retirement Age for Louisiana Judges

Bill Raftery at Gavel to Gavel reports that the Louisiana Senate has voted to eliminate the mandatory retirement age for judges.

For what it's worth, I think judges can be too old or too young.  I think we should try to get judges with the wisdom that comes from experience, but who are still young enough to be mentally sharp and hard working. Perhaps the ideal ages for judges are from about 50 to 70.  Sure, some younger than that are ready and some older than that are still sharp.  But minimum and maximum ages may do more good than harm overall.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Individual Senators Can Block Confirmation of Federal Judicial Nominees

The New York Times editorializes against the blue slip, the practice by which individual senators can block confirmation of federal judicial nominees

Year-end analysis by Russell Wheeler of Brookings:  "Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy rigorously honors a committee tradition of not processing nominees who are opposed by either home-state senator [blue slip].  It is thus pointless for the administration to send the Senate a nominee without those senators’ assurances they will not block the nomination." 

The NYTimes says of the blue slip: "It’s a form of senatorial courtesy that goes back to 1917 or so, giving senators an anti-democratic power never contemplated in the Constitution."

Monday, March 31, 2014

Rhode Island Judicial Nominating Commission

The Providence Journal reports the law governing the Judicial Nominating Commission sets out that “no person shall be appointed at any time to serve more than one term” on the commission.  Yet Governor Chafee’s latest appointee to the commission, D. Faye Sanders, previously served on the commission.  Chafee selected Sanders in January from a list provided by Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere.  “At the end of the day, I was having trouble finding people willing to serve,” Algiere said.

Friday, March 28, 2014

New Jersey Judicial Selection

New Jersey Supreme Court justices are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate for an initial 7-year term, after which the governor may renominate the justice, subject to Senate consent, for a position until age 70.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

[Chief Justice Stuart] Rabner's seven-year term ends in June, and [Governor Chris] Christie has not announced plans to renominate him. While the Republican governor hasn't said he will remove Rabner, a Democrat, he has spoken of a need to reshape the state's high court, which he decries as "out of control" and unaccountable to the public. Last summer, he publicly criticized one of Rabner's decisions.

Christie previously bucked decades of precedent by taking two other justices off the court, sparking protest from the legal community and legislative Democrats.

In 2010, Christie did not renominate John Wallace, a Gloucester County Democrat and the court's only African American. It was the first time in modern history that a sitting justice had not been granted tenure. Rabner issued a statement to judges saying he was disappointed by the decision. Christie has since repeated the move with a Republican, Helen Hoens.
The Wallace decision set off a war with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has blocked most of Christie's high court appointments, resulting in two vacancies.

Florida, Minnesota and Alaska Judicial Selection Bills

These various bills summarized by Bill Raftery seem generally to fit a pattern of Red State Republicans pushing for more democratic judicial selection methods while Blue State Democrats push for more lawyer-controlled judicial selection methods.