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

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

California Supreme Court Appointments by Governor Jerry Brown

California's supreme court nominating process is an unusual form of democratic appointment because the governor's nominees are confirmed, not by the state senate, but by a three-person "Commission on Judicial Appointments" comprised of the state's Chief Justice, Attorney General, and a senior presiding justice of the state's Court of Appeal. 

But it is still democratic appointment so it functions well to gradually move the court left or right with the long-term inclinations of the citizenry.  And if the court moves too far for the citizenry's tastes, the voters can remove judges at a retention election, which is what happened the first time Jerry Brown was governor of California.  As the NY Times puts it, "
he set out to reshape the powerful California Supreme Court by appointing its first female chief justice. But his pick, Rose Bird, had never served as a judge before and came to be perceived as a liberal ideologue. Ms. Bird, along with two other judges Mr. Brown named to the court, was recalled by voters in an election in 1986."

It is now nearly 40 years later and Brown is again governor and again has named three people to the seven-member Supreme Court — the latest confirmed on Monday.  Of these three, the NY Times writes,  "not one had a day of judicial experience: Two are law professors and the third is an associate attorney general in the Justice Department. They are all graduates of the same law school — Yale — which also counts among its alumni a California lawyer who made a career in politics, Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown’s most recent choice, Leondra R. Kruger, the associate attorney general, lives in Washington and has never practiced law in California."

More from the Times "Under California law, the governor nominates justices, and, assuming they are approved by the commission, they appear on the ballot every 12 years for an up-or-down vote."

Other views of California judicial selection including Brown's nominee's to the CA SCT.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Criticism of Alabama's Judicial Elections

The Montgomery Advertiser writes "Partisan judicial races harm state's economy."

"Partisan judicial elections create the perception – and often the reality – that the judicial system is not uniformly fair, that the fund-raising required to run campaigns creates a favored class of contributors who might get special treatment in the courts. "

Unfortunately, the Advertiser advocates a vague "merit selection" without addressing the key question of who picks the pickers and without even mentioning the alternative of senate confirmation.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tennessee Voters Amend Constitution to Adopt Legislative Confirmation of Appellate Judges

Tennessee voted 61 to 39 last month.  This is the culmination of a long effort to reform a strange situation in which the state constitution required all judges to be elected, yet, appellate judges were selected by a nominating commission system, which was then changed to a different nominating commission system.  Finally, now the constitution has been amended to a "federal model" system in which the legislature confirms the governor's nominee.

The new constitutional provision in Article VI, Section 3 reads:

Judges of the Supreme Court or any intermediate appellate court shall be appointed for a full term or to fill a vacancy by and at the discretion of the governor; shall be confirmed by the Legislature; and thereafter, shall be elected in a retention election by the qualified voters of the state. Confirmation by default occurs if the Legislature fails to reject an appointee within sixty calendar days of either the date of appointment, if made during the annual legislative session, or the convening date of the next annual legislative session, if made out of session. The Legislature is authorized to prescribe such provisions as may be necessary to carry out Sections two and three of this article.