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

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Big Money Democrats Fund Republican Candidates for Texas Supreme Court

According to Patricia Kilday Hart in the Houston Chronicle plaintiffs' trial lawyers are "raising campaign cash for a slate of Republican primary challengers to incumbent Texas Supreme Court justices, drawing largely on traditional Democratic donors."  Why would these big money Democrats fund Republicans?  "[S]ince 1994, no Democrat has been elected statewide in Texas."

The primary challengers and incumbents are: former Rep. Robert Talton vs. Chief Justice Nathan Hecht; lawyer Joe Pool Jr. vs. Justice Jeff Brown; and Appeals Judge Sharon McCally, who is challenging Justice Phil Johnson.

Patricia Kilday Hart in The Houston Chronicle reports: "Gov. Rick Perry sent an email this week supporting Hecht, Brown and Johnson, whom he appointed to positions on the court. He warned that 'liberal personal injury trial attorneys ... want to buy judges who would return Texas to the bad old days of Jackpot justice - huge and senseless jury verdicts that will bankrupt companies, take away jobs and ruin our economy.'"

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Texas Supreme Court Elections

Texas uses partisan elections to select its high court.  In 2014, four seats on the court are up for election.  Three of those four are the subject of Republican primaries March 4.  Here is the line up of candidates and a TV attack ad.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Selection of Kansas District Court Chief Judge

The Topeka Capital Journal reports on two bills in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  One would end the Supreme Court's authority to choose who the chief judge is in each of the state's 31 judicial districts, in favor of allowing the state's trial judges to vote.  "A separate bill also would strip the Supreme Court of its administrative authority over the entire judicial branch's budget in favor of allowing 31 separate judicial budgets that would be administered by each district."

One of the more interesting comments, by someone called "doubltap", says "This is just payback for the [Supreme Court of Kansas]  not minding it's own damned business on school funding. If the liberal demo appointments had kept their noses out of the K-12 funding issues, they would not be getting their butts kicked by the legislature today. But, of course, the whole purpose of [Gov. Sebelius] appointing her cronies to the courts was to facilitate quid pro quo for the KNEA, who contributed to heavily to her campaign. Hopefully, Kansans will get to vote on a constitutional amendment this November which will eradicate the qualitative language that currently give this bunch of judicial activists a hook to hang their hats on, and we can get back to the legislature, not the court's liberal stooges, determining proper funding for our schools."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Effects of Ending the Filibuster for Federal Judicial Nominees

In November, US Senate Democrats triggered the nuclear option of doing away with the filibuster for all judicial nominees except the Supreme Court. "But so far, removing that procedural hurdle hasn't changed much in the Senate, where there hasn't been a single vote on a district court nominee since December." the Huffington Post reports.

Tennessee Judicial Selection Controversy

Current Tennessee system of judicial appointments, evaluations and retention elections for appellate courts is unconstitutional, according to this op-ed in the Tennessean. Law review articles on point by Vanderbilt Law Prof Brian Fitzpatrick here and here

New Mexico Judges Switch From Republican to Democrat

Interesting politics, involving Republican Governor and VP mentionee Susana Martinez, reported by Las Cruces Sun-News

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Iowa Supreme Court Selection Continues to be Contested

Among Governor Branstad’s recent appointees to the state Judicial Nominating Commission is former Rep. Betty De Boef, who was one of five legislators to file articles of impeachment against four of the justices involved in the same-sex marriage case, Varnum v. Brein.  Until 2010, a sitting judge had never lost a retention election. However, during the November 2, 2010 election, three sitting Supreme Court justices: Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit, were voted out of office in reaction to Varnum.

My discussion of Iowa Supreme Court selection is here with Radio Iowa News Director O. Kay Henderson, Rep. Chris Hagenow, Rep. Kurt Swaim, Iowa Judicial Nominating Commissioner Guy R. Cook, and others discuss Iowa Supreme Court selection, Feb. 22, 2011, at an event hosted by the Federalist Society, Iowa Lawyers Chapter.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Diversity Push by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Alliance for Justice and NY Times

Progressive group Alliance for Justice, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the New York Times seem to be coordinating a push for diversity on the federal bench--meaning "judicial nominees with diverse professional backgrounds – including those who have worked as lawyers for public interest groups, litigated civil rights cases and served as public defenders."  First Alliance for Justice issued a report.  Then the NY Times praised it.  Then Alliance for Justice hosted an event with Elizabeth Warren and cited  the NY Times coverage of its earlier report.

Video here

More video of E. Warren here

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Time Limits for Judges to Rule

One of the reasons many people support changing to a less insular Kansas Supreme Court selection system is the long time it takes the court to rule in many of its cases.  The Kansas Legislature is considering a bill that would create "soft deadlines" for the state's judges. The Lawrence Journal World reports "Senate Vice President Jeff King says six states have similar laws on time limits, which can withhold pay from judges who are tardy in their rulings."

Friday, February 7, 2014

NYTimes Criticizes Federal Bench for Too Many Corporate Lawyers and Prosecutors

It's not just Republican presidents who appoint corporate attorneys or prosecutors.  The New York Times cites an Alliance for Justice report that says about 85 percent of Mr. Obama’s nominees to the federal bench have been corporate attorneys or prosecutors."  I think the Times is right in saying "though some senators think it’s politically incorrect to say so, a judge’s experience and personal history are, at times, critical to how she or he approaches the job."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pennsylvania Judicial Retention

Judges in Pennsylvania are elected to vacant seats in partisan elections, but then stand for periodic nonpartisan retention elections.

Pennsylvania Representative Ted Harhai (D) introduced a bill last week that would require judicial retention election ballots to list the party affiliations of judges. "His legislation is a less radical move than separate bills ... that seek to eliminate initial judicial elections — while still preserving retention elections — for statewide judges. The backers of these bills claim that merit selection, rather than added transparency in elections, is key to boosting the public’s trust." according to Law360.

White House Says "This is the First Time Our Judicial Pool Has Been This Diverse"

President Obama nominated five more people for federal judgeships today.  One "would be the first openly gay male African-American federal district judge" according to the National Law Journal.  Also today, the White House website has nice graphics emphasizing diversity. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Oklahoma Judicial Selection: Term Limits for Judges?

Member of the Oklahoma bar opposes bill by Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon to limit judges to 12 years on the bench.  My opinion is that 12 years is about right.  Ideally, starting about age 60 or 65 as the capstone to finish a distinguished career.  If the judge has kids, they're probably grown by then and the judge has moved into a different stage of life with more focus on his or her legacy for future generations.  I don't think a judge should be thinking about his or her next job.  After serving as a judge, should usually come retirement.