IAALS would like to congratulate Malia Reddick, Consultant to our Quality Judges Initiative, on being named recipient of the National Association of Women Judges’ Award of Appreciation. Malia has been very involved with the NAWJ’s Informed Voters—Fair Judges Project over the years, and is being recognized for her many contributions and overall efforts to advance this important nonpartisan civics education.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to settle a conflict in lower federal and state courts regarding whether judicial candidates may personally solicit campaign contributions. The nation’s highest court has not addressed the First Amendment rights of judicial candidates since 2002. Every state supreme court to address the constitutionality of these restrictions has upheld them, but federal courts of appeals have split on the issue.
Public opinion polls consistently show that voters know very little about judges and judicial candidates on the ballot and wish they had more information. Around the country, judicial branch entities, state bar associations, and other groups are working to change that. In the November judicial elections, voters in many states will have the benefit of objective assessments of the performance of incumbent judges, and in some instances, the qualifications of their challengers.
Earlier this month, Law Week Colorado published an article highlighting IAALS’ report Choosing Judges: Judicial Nominating Commissions and the Selection of Supreme Court Justices. An outgrowth of the O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan, the report examines why judicial nominating commissions are established in the first place, how their structure and operation differ across the nation, and what some of the best practices might be in building public trust in the process.
The outcome of governors’ races in at least two states—Florida and Kansas—will have meaningful implications for those states’ courts. Florida’s next governor could have the opportunity to fill four of seven seats on the supreme court. In Kansas, the gubernatorial candidates have a fundamental area of disagreement involving how state supreme court justices should be chosen.
On August 7, three Tennessee Supreme Court justices withstood a well-funded challenge to their retention on the bench for subsequent terms. Tennesseans are now looking ahead to November 4, when voters will decide whether to adopt a modified federal selection process for the state’s appellate judges. Voters in four other states will also weigh in on proposed constitutional amendments affecting judicial selection and tenure.
IAALS would like to congratulate Kansas Court of Appeals Judge Steve Leben on being named the 2014 recipient of the William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence. The National Center for State Courts Rehnquist award is presented annually to a state court judge who embodies judicial excellence, integrity, fairness, and professional ethics. Judge Leben is a close friend of IAALS, and his impact has been felt across much of our work.
We are pleased to announce the release of a new report on the judicial nominating commissions used to select supreme court justices in 30 states and Washington, D.C. With Choosing Judges, we examine why judicial nominating commissions are established in the first place, how their structure and operation differ across the nation, and what some of the best practices might be in building public trust in the process.
New Mexico judges are chosen through a process that is truly unique. Since 1988, judicial vacancies have been filled by commission-based appointment. Appointees then face a partisan election to keep their seats. At the conclusion of their terms, judges stand for retention for subsequent terms. This year, five judges waited until after the filing deadline to announce their retirement, exemplifying what some see as an increasing trend by judges and party leaders to try to influence judicial selections.
Recent events in Arkansas have prompted some state leaders to call for an end to electing judges, in favor of commission-based gubernatorial appointment.
With Tennessee’s August 7 judicial retention elections just over two weeks away, the TV ad war is escalating. According to the latest figures, the Tennessee Forum has spent nearly $120,000 on an anti-retention TV ad, while campaigns supporting the justices’ retention have spent just over $200,000 on television advertising.
In recent years, I have been distressed to see persistent efforts in some states to politicize the bench and the role of our judges. Working closely with IAALS and its Quality Judges Initiative, we have collaborated to promote processes for selecting and retaining state judges that inspire public trust in our courts and the integrity of their decisions. Today, I am pleased to share with you the O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan—our recommendations for protecting and strengthening the courts.
Why do you obey the law? Because you are afraid of the consequences if you don’t? Or perhaps because it is the right thing to do? How about, because you believe that “government has the right to dictate to [you] proper behavior”? The third option—believing that government’s laws and legal process have legitimacy—may be the keystone to building the most effective legal system.
The Colorado Supreme Court has rejected a proposed initiative intended for the November 2014 ballot that would amend the state constitution to allow voter recall of judges. Two other proposed ballot initiatives aimed at courts and judges are still alive. Eight states currently allow voters to recall judges.
Recent national media coverage paints a highly positive picture of the current pace of federal judicial nominations and confirmations. After all, 2014 has seen 50 confirmations so far, compared to 43 in all of 2013 and 48 in 2012. Not so fast, says Russell Wheeler, an IAALS Board Member and Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution. The outlook has improved, but according to Wheeler, a case can be made for a more cautious assessment.
Developed as part of the “Informed Voters – Fair Judges” project, a voter education effort led by the National Association of Women Judges, a short film featuring retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has received an Emmy Award in the Public Service Announcement category from the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
A federal judge has upheld the unusual system that Ohio uses to elect its judges, which features partisan primary elections and a nonpartisan general election. The challenge to the Ohio system was first filed in 2010 by the Ohio Democratic Party, three judicial candidates, and a public employees union, who claimed that not allowing judicial candidates to run with party labels violated their First Amendment rights.
Ending months of speculation, Governor Chris Christie re-nominated Chief Justice Stuart Rabner to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The move was part of a political compromise with senate leadership, which agreed in exchange to support the nomination of a Christie ally to the supreme court. The deal between Governor Christie, a Republican, and Democrats in the senate will fill one of two seats on a court that has had two vacancies since early 2012.
As the burgeoning campaign in opposition to the retention of the three Tennessee justices continues, those justices are responding with their own campaign. They recently gave an interview to a local news outlet in which they discussed the threat that the retention challenge poses to judicial independence. The Tennessee and Nashville bar associations have both entered the fray as well.
Late last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down a handful of provisions in Arizona’s code of judicial conduct as they apply to the campaign behavior of judicial candidates. According to the court, “[t]o the extent states wish to avoid a politicized judiciary, they can choose to do so by not electing judges.”
Speaker of the Senate and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, a Republican, is leading the charge against three supreme court justices standing for retention in August. (All appellate judges in Tennessee stand for retention at the same time every eight years, but two justices on the five-member court are retiring this summer.)
Judicial independence is like freedom in that it is often taken for granted, and always at risk. Simply stated, judicial independence means that one branch of government is not subject to the will of the majority. That independent branch is charged with upholding the Constitution, even in the face of contrary majority will, and with protecting the rights of those not in power. What happens when judicial independence is threatened? We have a current all-too-disturbing example.
With many state legislatures around the country wrapping up their 2014 sessions, IAALS Online offers this update on the progress of measures related to the selection and tenure of state judges. Developments in: Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Oklahoma.
Inter-branch tensions in Oklahoma have escalated in recent days over the state supreme court’s handling of a death penalty appeal. A member of Oklahoma’s house of representatives filed articles of impeachment against five supreme court justices who voted to stay the execution of two death row inmates. Tension was already brewing between the legislature and the high court over a 2013 decision that struck down a comprehensive lawsuit reform measure.