Election 2012: The winners and what their victories portend for 2013/2014

Maryland’s Question 1 & Question 2: Both approved

These amendments required the Orphans’ Court (read: probate court) judges in Prince George’s & Baltimore Counties, respectively, to be attorneys. Because of a quirk in the state constitution regarding amendments affecting only a single county, the Questions required majorities both statewide and in the county at issue itself. Both Questions met with 85%+ approval, about what a similar initiative applying to the City of Baltimore got in 2010 (83% statewide, 88% in the City itself).

The upshot is that in 2 of the state’s 4 counties with a population over 500,000 (plus the autonomous and independent City of Baltimore, population ~620k) attorneys of the probate court must be lawyers. The other counties: Montgomery & Anne Arundel.

New Jersey Constitutional Amendment 2 was approved 83% to 17%

The provision changes the state constitution’s prohibition on diminishing of judicial salaries while in office to provide it may not occur “for deductions from such salaries for contributions, established by law from time to time, for pensions as provided for under paragraphs 3 and 5 of Section VI of this Article, health benefits, and other, similar benefits.”

It is not clear what this means for future moves in New Jersey and it remains to be seen if the amendment, adopted after the state supreme court struck down a 2011 law that required judges pay more for their benefits and retirement, will be held to be prospective only, requiring the legislature re-pass the 2011 law.

New Mexico Constitutional Amendment 1 was approved 60% to 40%

The amendment adds magistrate judge and additional member of public to Judicial Standards Commission. The result is that the majority of the commission remains laypersons. I mentioned in 2011 there’s be a great deal of legislative interest in changing these commissions, mostly to add more lay persons or to convert the bodies into quasi-appellate courts in order to “punish” judges who reach the “wrong” opinions. While the New Mexico amendment did not appear to come with that sort of freight weighing it down, 2013/2014 legislatures may take (and in the case of Minnesota, will take) the subject up.

Oregon Measure 78 was approved 72% to 28%

Cleans up some confusing language that references two “branches” of the state legislature while the judiciary is referred to as both “the judicial department” and “judicial branch”. The very definition of a technical amendment, it still keeps at least a few references to “judicial department” in the document. It is not at all clear if there’s any interest in going back in for another clean-up bill and as I noted earlier in the election cycle it’s not at all unusual for state constitutions to refer to the judiciary as a “department”.