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

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

More Money for NC Supreme Court Races

Justice at Stake says The Republican State Leadership Committee announced that its Judicial Fairness Initiative would fund conservative judge candidates who have conservative ideologies.
In North Carolina, a group called Justice for All NC has received $650,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee and has begun airing a TV ad critical of Justice Robin Hudson.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kansas Supreme Court Loses Power to Pick Chief Judges of District Courts

This in a bill that's part of a long battle between legislators and the court.

Brad Cooper in the Kansas City Star writes  "In a move that some see as violating the state constitution, the new law lets local judges pick chief district judges instead of the high court. The law also would allow local judges, not the state Supreme Court, to manage their own budgets."

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2014/04/27/4986138/relationship-between-kansas-legislature.html#storylink=cpy

Campaign Spending for North Carolina Supreme Court Tops $1 Million

The North Carolina Supreme Court primary on May 6 features incumbent Justice Robin Hudson against challengers Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson and Jeanette Doran in the three-way primary.  The top-two will be on the general election ballot in November. 

The of $1 million includes spending by candidates and by independent groups. Bert Brandenburg of Justice at Stake says "“What compounds the problem this year is that North Carolina has just done away with its public financing program for judicial elections."

Monday, April 28, 2014

President Obama and Senate Democrats Eager to Confirm Judges Before 2014 Elections

New York Times reports: "With the possibility that Republicans could take the Senate in November, the White House and Senate Democrats are working swiftly to confirm judges to the federal courts in an effort to allow President Obama to leave a lasting liberal imprint on the judiciary."

Republicans, the Times says, are "deeply resentful of Mr. Obama for encouraging Senate Democrats to end the filibuster on all presidential nominations but those to the Supreme Court."  Nevertheless, Republicans slow confirmations through the “blue slip”, which allows each senator veto power over any judge from his or her state.

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."