Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Argus pushes for judicial reform - I have mixed views

One thing that's been pushed for years from the Center For Michigan and the Phil Power crew is a change in how Supreme Court justices are chosen in Michigan. The Argus had an editorial on that today, copied in part from the Lansing State Journal. I partially agree with it, although other parts I do not agree with. Personally I think the system for the Supreme Court should be the same system used for other Michigan judges. A simple primary where the top two candidates have a run off in November. Maybe add a 10 year law practice requirement to prevent newcomers with certain Irish last names from making a run for it five years out of law school.

The task force recommends:

  • Public disclosure of all judicial campaign spending.
  • Creation of an open primary to remove political parties from nominating candidates for Supreme Court justice.
  • Creation of two citizen panels, one to screen and recommend candidates for appointment to Supreme Court vacancies and the other to monitor conduct of judicial campaigns and provide context to help citizens evaluate claims made in election advertisements.
  • Creation of a voter education guide, produced by the secretary of state, to provide voters with basic background information on judicial candidates' training and experience.
  • Ending the age-70 limit on judicial candidates. The change would require a constitutional amendment.The reforms will not be easily adopted. Interest groups — including the Democratic and Republican political parties — may well prefer the status quo. But candidates in a nonpartisan race for a job where impartiality is a core requirement should not be forced to curry favor among party activists in order to get on the ballot. It's a system that breeds distrust and must be changed.
    An impartial judiciary is in Michigan's best interests. By removing partisanship, holding interest groups accountable for their spending and their advertising messages, involving citizens more closely and supporting voter education, Michigan can improve this system greatly.

  • Addressing those points.

    1. We have public disclosure of judicial committee spending, as well as PACs.

    2. I agree with the open primary similar to our appeals court elections.

    3. Now I have a problem. Who gets on the panel? Who makes them the arbiter to decide? This looks too much like the Missouri plan which is not only political "behind the scenes" but take the picks away from the voters. As far as the conduct of judicial campaigns, we have the code of judicial ethics already in effect by the State Bar of Michigan. I'm bound by it myself when I'm part of a judicial campaign. I also do not want to see the State Bar of Michigan become a political organization, directly or indirectly.

    4. Why was age 70 (or age 75 in some cases when election is at age 65) there to begin with? It hurts in some cases when the minds are still sharp, but others no longer have it.

    5. This doesn't remove partisanship or do much of impartiality. It is, was, and always will be a factor as long as judicial philosophy is always an issue. Dred Scot. Slaughter-house. Lochner era. Roosevelt pushback and Wickard v Filburn. Warren Court (not AS bad as reputation). The Burger Court (absolutely awful). Rehnquist and Roberts balanced court today. It's become a bigger factor today largely thanks to the Burger Court's Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton and the heavy activism and increased governmental power of the 70's, some of it built upon previously bad decisions of Wickard v Filburn.

    I've seen other issues pushed elsewhere like removing voting for judges and having governors appoint with no recourse by the the voters. I have a big problem with that. I don't think party conventions should nominate Supreme Court justices however. We do not do it for appeals court races which are just as important, and have almost the same impact as the Supreme Court.

    Some of this isn't bad. Some is. I do think there will be a greater push for reforms, but let's make sure the cure isn't worse than the disease. 

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