Merit selection: comprehensive state-by-state review of efforts to modify or end existing systems

The debate over merit selection systems has reached a head in the last several years, with strenuous efforts at play to create merit selection systems in states which lack them coupled with vigorous efforts in other states that have merit selection to heavily modify or end their systems.

Over the next two days I’m going to look at both aspects of merit selection. Today I’ll be examining 2012 efforts to modify or end existing merit selection systems as created by constitutional provision or statute. Several states use “merit selection” entirely as the result of governors’ creating nomination panels; because these don’t involve the legislature I will not focus on them. All information as to which states have what is from the American Judicature Society’s 2011 report “Judicial Merit Selection: Current Status” located here.

Tomorrow (April 11) I will examine efforts to implement statutory and/or constitutional merit selection systems in states that do not currently have them.

Alabama – Circuit Court in select counties [interim only]: No activity

Alaska – Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Superior Court: No activity

Arizona – Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Superior Court in larger counties: A 2011 bill (SCR 1001) revising numerous provisions of the merit selection system (commission composition, number of names submitted, etc.) plus increasing judicial terms will be on the 2012 ballot. A 2012 effort to simply end the merit selection system and replace with partisan elections (SCR 1034 / SB 1371) was rejected in committee.

Colorado – Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Court: No activity

Connecticut – Supreme Court, Appellate Court, Superior Court: No activity

Florida – Supreme Court, District Court of Appeal; Circuit [interim only]: A 2011 bill (HJR 7111) requiring Supreme Court nominees chosen by the governor be subject to Senate confirmation will be on the 2012 ballot. Several attempts to change the composition of the nominating commissions and allowing a governor to fire a majority of the commissioners at will (vs. staggered terms) failed at the last minute (HB 971 / SB 1570).

Hawaii – Supreme Court, Intermediate Appellate Court of Appeals, Circuit Court, District Court: Constitutional amendments HB 2343 and SB 2209 would require judicial selection commissions to provide more public disclosure of their proceedings, specifically information about those whose names are considered to fill vacancies. The Senate version appears now to be the primary bill, having been approved by the full Senate and the House Judiciary Committee. Another constitutional amendment, SB 2205, would lower the number of names submitted to fill vacancies: for Supreme, Intermediate Appellate & Circuit: from 4-6 to specifically 3. For District: from not less than 6 to specifically 3.

Idaho – Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Court [interim only]: No activity

Indiana – Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Tax Court, Superior and other trial courts in select counties: Proposals to substantially revised (SJR 13) or simply end (SJR 14) merit selection failed to advance.

Iowa – Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Court: Several bills introduced in 2011 to either alter or end merit selection were carried over into the 2012 session (see database for full list). None advanced.

Kansas – Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Court at district’s discretion : The prime focus was in ending merit selection for the Court of Appeals; because it is a statutorily created court the change would only require a change in statute rather than a constitutional amendment. While meeting with House approval in 2011 (HB 2101) the Senate failed to take up the bill. Undaunted, the House began attaching it to unrelated pieces of legislation (SB 83) and seeking to end the commission on judicial performance which makes recommendations for or against retention of judges (HB 2396).

Kentucky – Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Court; District Court [interim only]: No activity

Maine – Supreme Judicial Court and Superior Court: No activity

Minnesota – District Court [interim only]: No activity

Missouri – Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts in select counties: The state synonymous with merit selection saw efforts to outright end merit selection fail to advance (HJR 77, SJR 41, SJR 42). Efforts to modify the system were and are active. SJR 51 would allow the governor to appoint all nominating commission members subject to senate confirmation and a prohibition of members of the bar, judiciary, or their spouses from serving. HJR 44 increases the names given to the governor to chose from 3 to 5 and allows the governor to reject the first 5 person panel, ask for a second, and then select from the 10. It also alters the composition of the nominating commissions and, like the Florida provisions attempted to do, allows the governor to fire commissioners appointed by prior governors. HJR 44 was approved by the House Special Standing Committee on Judicial Reform 3/21/12 and is currently in the House Rules Committee.

Montana – Supreme Court and District Court [interim only]-: Legislature not in session.

Nebraska – Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Court, County Court: No activity

Nevada – Supreme Court and District Court [interim only]: Legislature not in session.

New Mexico – Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Court, Metropolitan Court: SB 24, which was approved by the Senate but not the House, would have created a special fund to help pay for the judicial nominating commissions associated with the state’s merit selection system. Funds were to have come from gifts, donations, etc. plus $50,000 a year from the legislature itself as an automatic, recurring appropriation.

New York – Court of Appeals (court of last resort in state): A single bill introduced in 2011 (AB 309) would have required the nominating commission submit all qualified names to governor. It has failed to advance.

North Dakota – Supreme Court and District Court: Legislature out of session

Oklahoma – Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals, Court of Civil Appeals, District Court [interim only]: 2011 carry over bills SJR 36 would have ended merit selection for the appellate courts, allowing the governor to appoint anyone qualified subject to senate confirmation while SB 621 would have required nominees chosen via the state’s merit selection system be subject to senate confirmation. Neither have advanced in 2012. Other carry over bills from 2011 to end merit (HJR 1008 & HJR 1009 for appellate courts; SB 543 to fill interim vacancies in District Courts) went nowhere.

Rhode Island – Supreme Court, Superior Court, Family Court, District Court : No activity Update 4/11/12: HB 8043 filed just days ago extends until 2013 an existing law allowing any individual whose name was publicly submitted to the governor by the judicial nominating commission to be eligible for subsequent nomination by the governor.

South Dakota – Supreme Court, Circuit Court [Interim only]: No activity

Tennessee – Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals, Court of Appeals, Trial Courts [interim only]: Tennessee has seen literally dozens of bills introduced in 2011 and carried over, plus new bills in 2012, dealing with the state’s merit selection system which is due to “sunset” and expire soon.

Put merit selection explicitly in constitution:

HJR 753 Adds legislative confirmation of nominees

HJR 830

SJR 183

SJR 710 Adds legislative confirmation of nominees

Extend merit to June 30, 2013:

HB 3575 / SB 3321

HB 2356 / SB 2346

HB 2537 / SB 2345

Extend merit to June 30, 2014:

HB 3451 (nominating commission only)

End merit:

HB 173 / SB 127

HB 231 / SB 281

HB 958 / SB 699

HB 3615 / SB 3714

SJR 475

SJR 635

Modify:

HB 1017 / SB 82 Retains merit selection, but makes judicial nomination commission recommendations advisory; allows governor to ignore recommendations.

HB 1702 / SB 646 Requires judges selected via merit selection system receive 75% yes in retention election.

HB 3452 / SB 2794 Retains merit selection, but alters nomination process and adds confirmation.

HB 3691 / SB 3652 Requires House and Senate speakers appoint all nine members of the judicial evaluation commission since the judicial council no longer exists.

Utah – Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Court, Juvenile Court: No activity

Vermont – Supreme Court, Superior Court, District Court: No activity

West Virginia – Supreme Court of Appeals, Circuit Court, Family Court [interim only]: No activity

Wyoming – Supreme Court, District Court, Circuit Court: No activity