Friday, January 23, 2009

Let us elect our high court jurists!

This subject makes me think I am not so much a liberal or a progressive but an out-and-out relic. As Legislator wants elected high court jurists points out I am not the only one liking the idea.
"One Indiana legislator wants to make changes to the state's highest court, including how the jurists are seated. Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawaka, is sponsoring a House Joint Resolution that would require Indiana Supreme Court justices be elected instead of appointed and retained.

HJR 9, new this year, proposes several changes to the Supreme Court. Other members of the high court would appoint the chief justice instead of the Judicial Nominating Commission. The governor would fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court with a judge from the Indiana Court of Appeals to serve out the remainder of the term. The number of justices would be capped at five as opposed to the current option for up to nine total justices.

Perhaps the biggest change suggested in the legislation is that the justices would be elected by the general public to a 6-year term. The General Assembly would divide Indiana into three districts, and one justice would be elected by the voters of those districts. Two justices would be elected by all voters statewide"
I doubt the legislation makes it out of committee. We stopped electing appellate court judges about 38 years ago. Since then only retirement or death has generated any turnover in the Indiana Supreme Court or Court of Appeals. That was not always so. Which raises concerns in me of freshness of minds and loss of contact with current trends in the state.

This paragraph surprised me:
The legislation comes at a time when several bar associations have spoken out in support for the continuance and expansion of merit-based selection of judges on the appellate and trial levels. In a Q&A with Indiana Lawyer in 2008, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justices Theodore Boehm and Brent Dickson spoke in favor of the current merit selection and retention system in Indiana, saying it attracts quality candidates and prevents the political fights common in other states.
First, I know of no lawyers who like the idea of appointed judges. I got an earful of how much last month in the Delaware County courthouse. Under our current system of elections there is at least a chance (although low probability) of an incumbent leaving the bench. Merit selection removes even the slightest probability of removing a bad judge. What we get are judges for life.

Second, Indiana has a very good example of elections without the usual sort of political fights: our school board elections. School board members do not run as Democrats or Republicans.

Thirdly, what we are getting much more of at the appellate level are professional judges. I mean this in the same sense as a professional student and not in the sense of judges who are professional. Thankfully, Indiana lacks the thoroughgoing permeation of the judiciary by judges moving lockstep up the system as afflicts the federal system. Still, it would be good to see more judges who actually had to practice law, to see clients in their offices suffering problems, and trying to make sense of the pronouncements from on high to solve a client's problems. Or to have people who have seen the other side of the bench. We need an overhaul of how we select our judges but going to a merit selection for all judges is not a good idea.

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