A follow-up to last week’s posting, as anticipated changes to merit selection in Alaska and Florida moved this week.
Both HJR 33 and SJR 21 alter the state’s Judicial Council, which serves as both the merit selection commission and the judicial performance evaluation commission which issues its recommendations prior to retention elections. They both would expand the existing 7 member Council (3 lawyers picked by bar, 3 nonlawyers picked by governor and confirmed by legislature, 1 chief justice) to 10 members by giving the governor a 6:3 advantage. Where they differed was in the confirmation process: HJR 33 wanted all bar-picked lawyers to be subject to legislative confirmation (they aren’t currently); SJR 21 was silent on the issue.
A March 31 Senate Finance Committee hearing dealt with amendments to SJR 21 including one to require legislative confirmation of bar members. Proponents claimed the lack of legislative confirmation was an “oversight” by the Alaska Constitutional Convention, testimony was heard that it wasn’t an oversight but deliberately done to keep partisan politics out of the selection of the bar members. This caused one Senator to claim as “arrogance” the notion that Council members should not be “accountable” to the general public and made a parallel between the attorney members of the state’s Judicial Council and the barber/hairdresser members of the state’s Board of Barbers and Hairdressers, the members of which must be approved by the legislature.
The Senate Finance Committee amendment also put in a requirement for a 7/10 quorum of the Council; proponents claim it is to prohibit the chief justice from having a tie breaking vote against the public members of the committee against a judicial nominee. The House version allows for a quorum of 5.
The Senate Finance Committee vote on March 31 on SJR 21 as amended was a 5-0-1 vote. The 5 votes came from 4 Republicans plus 1 Democrat (Olson) who caucuses with the Republicans. One Republican (Bishop) voted no recommendation. Yesterday (April 3) the Senate Rules Committee procedurally advanced SJR 21 to the Senate Floor Calendar for April 4. As I noted last week, SJR 21 could go through on a near-party line vote in the Senate. The Republicans have 14 Senate seats, one shy of the two-thirds needed in that chamber, plus 2 Democrats who caucus with them one of whom voted for the bill to come out of committee.
In the meantime, HJR 33 remained in limbo; a House Finance Committee hearing set for April 2 was cancelled.
On a 26-14 party line vote the Florida Senate advanced a constitutional amendment (SJR 1188) that allows for governors to make “prospective appointments” via the state’s merit selection system for appellate court vacancies that haven’t occurred yet. The issue is key since the only 3 Democrat-appointed justice of the state supreme court all have their terms expire on the same day in January 2019; if reelected and if SJR 1188 is approved by voters Republican Governor Rick Scott could fill all 3 seats even though he has to leave office that exact same day due to term limits.
There is no version of SJR 1188 in the House, however the Speaker of the House has said “I do believe it’s something that our body should consider.”