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

Judicial selection and other videos

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Monday, March 30, 2015

NY Times Connects Kansas School Funding with Kansas Judicial Selection

Unfortunately, the Times ("Under the current system, the governor chooses from three nominees put forth by a nine-member committee that includes lawyers and appointees of the governor") does not say who selects those lawyers, which is the problem with the current Kansas Supreme Court selection process.

Former Chief Justice of Alabama "Disgusted" by What She Had to Do to Get Elected

Sue Bell Cobb writes in Politico "I never quite got over the feeling of being trapped inside a system whose very structure left me feeling disgusted."

Justice Cobb's article entitled "I Was Alabama’s Top Judge. I’m Ashamed by What I Had to Do to Get There: How money is ruining America’s courts" says

"In Alabama, would-be judges are allowed to ask for money directly. We can make calls not just to the usual friends and family but to lawyers who have appeared before us, lawyers who are likely to appear before us, officials with companies who may very well have interests before the court. And I did."

Justice Cobb: "When a judge asks a lawyer who appears in his or her court for a campaign check, it’s about as close as you can get to legalized extortion. Lawyers who appear in your court, whose cases are in your hands, are the ones most interested in giving. It’s human nature: Who would want to risk offending the judge presiding over your case by refusing to donate to her campaign? They almost never say no—even when they can’t afford it."

Bringing back memories of when I lived in Alabama, Justice Cobb mentions the notorious TV ad portraying the opposing judicial candidate as a skunk. I wrote about Alabama judicial elections, in  Money, Politics and Judicial Decisions

Unfortunately, Justice Cobb does not highlight the lawmaking role of state supreme court justices, and instead says they’re "supposed to apply the settled law against the facts and evidence of the case before their court." That sounds more like a trial court. The state supreme court has lots of discretion in making the law "settled" in one direction or another so lower courts can then apply it. It's that lawmaking role of supreme courts that justifies a democratic form of judicial selection, rather than what Justice Cobb calls "merit selection."

Monday, March 16, 2015

Progress for Bill to Reduce Secrecy of Kansas Supreme Court Selection Process

The Kansas Senate passed SB197 which would require a public list of which lawyers are eligible to vote for the supreme court nominating commission and which lawyers voted. It would also subject the commission to the Open Meetings Act.

For the Kansas Court of Appeals, SB 197 would require the governor to make public each applicant's name.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Wisconsin Supreme Court Campaign Funding

Today's New York Times complains:

"According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce spent about $5.6 million to support the election of Justices Annette Ziegler, Michael Gableman, David Prosser and Patience Roggensack. The Wisconsin Club for Growth spent about $1.8 million to help elect those justices, while Citizens for a Strong America spent almost $1 million to elect Mr. Prosser.
This should not be a hard call, but under a pitifully weak rule in Wisconsin’s code of judicial conduct, judges do not have to recuse themselves over independent spending related to their campaigns."

Friday, March 6, 2015

Kansas Senate Confirmation Hearing for Court of Appeals

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted yesterday in favor of Kathryn Gardner's confirmation to the Kansas Court of Appeals. The hearing "was tense as committee chairman Republican Sen. Jeff King aggressively questioned her qualifications." This is in contrast to the predictions of some who worry that if the senate is controlled by members of the governor's party the governor's nominee will not be scrutinized seriously.

Also, some people complain that a senate confirmation process does not reveal who other than the governor's nominee applied for the position. For instance, AP reports Sen.Carolyn McGinn said she "believed Gardner answered questions well, but wished the names of other applicants to the position were made public." But two lawyers (Suzanne Valdez and Dennis Depew) told The Wichita Eagle that they applied.

Monday, March 2, 2015

West Virginia Switches From Partisan to Non-Partisan Judicial Elections

According to Bill Raftery, West Virginia's legislature voted to "move the state to nonpartisan judicial elections at all levels" making it "the fourth state to move from partisan to nonpartisan elections in the last twenty or so years:
  • Arkansas: In 2000 voters approved Amendment 80, a rewrite of the state’s Judiciary Article, which included nonpartisan elections for judges.
  • Mississippi: Most state courts were moved to nonpartisan elections under the 1994 Nonpartisan Judicial Elections Act; Justice of the Peace Court races remain partisan.
  • North Carolina: The state’s courts were moved to nonpartisan ballots in a piecemeal fashion: Superior (1996), District (2001), and finally the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court (2002)."