Merit selection update: TN still a mystery; repeal in OK appears dead for 2013; effort to adopt advances in MN; AZ increases number of names

With legislatures starting to wind down for 2013, efforts to adopt, modify, or end merit selection are up against key deadlines

1) On April 5 Arizona’s governor  signed HB 2600, a bill to require the state’s merit selection commissions submit at least 5 names to the governor to pick from (the constitution provides at least 3 names must be given).

2) Minnesota’s SB 1082, an effort to adopt merit selection for all judicial offices (currently in place for interim appointments for trial court judges only), advanced in the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 2.

3) The Oklahoma Senate’s effort to repeal merit selection (SJR 21) appears set to fail in the House for 2013.  Oklahoma House Rules require all Senate bills & joint resolutions, like SJR 21, be approved by the assigned House committee by April 11. However, the House Judiciary Committee has not put it on its agenda for today (April 9) and the House committee calendar for this week indicates the House Judiciary will not meet again before the April 11 deadline.

Death for SJR 21 in 2013 does not mean it is over for the Oklahoma legislature altogether. Under House Rule 6.9 SJR 21 will be back in the House Judiciary Committee at the start of the 2014 session.

4) It still remains unclear what, if anything, is going to happen in Tennessee, but whatever happens we’ll know in the next 24 hours.

I discussed the problem in depth here, in short the elements of the existing merit selection system: the nominating commission (JNC) and performance evaluation commission (JPEC) are set to expire. The JNC is set to end this year (June 30, 2012 + 1 year “wind down” period = June 20, 2013) and the JPEC in 2014 (June 30, 2013 + 1 year to “wind down”).

There are a great many moving parts, but the main sticking point occurred in March when an unrelated bill (SB 1058) was gutted and replaced with a major overhaul to the JPEC. Under the amendment the existing evaluation commission and all its members would be ended, a new JPEC installed and the new commission would have the power to not only change the criteria for “judicial performance” but allowed to block judges it deems not qualified from even getting on the ballot (currently the commission can recommend against retention but cannot actually stop the judge from trying). Proponents argue that because retention elections have failed to remove judges except one in the past, the JPEC should be allowed to do so.

Retention elections are set for November 2014 for all current Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals judges.

A list of all the Tennessee JNC/JPEC extension bills are below.

Bills Provisions Hearings/Status
HB 364 / SB 215 Extends the judicial nominating commission until June 30, 2015. Senate Government Operations on 4/10/13
HB 695 /SB 216 Extends the judicial performance evaluation commission until June 30, 2015. House Government Operations Committee hearing on 4/9/13; Senate Government Operations hearing on 4/10/13
HB 796 Extends the judicial nominating commission until June 30, 2014. Approved as amended by full House 2/21/13.
SB 566 (counterpart HB 796 as originally introduced) Extends the judicial nominating commission until June 30, 2013. Senate Government Operations hearing on 4/10/13
HB 835 /SB 567 Extends the judicial performance evaluation commission until June 30, 2014. Approved by full House 3/18/13. Senate Government Operations hearing on 4/10/13.
SB 1058 (no House counterpart) AS AMENDED: Removes all judicial performance evaluation commission members. Replaces with 9 members, none of whom are judges (currently there must be 3 out of 9). Provides new JPEC allowed to rewrite any existing evaluation criteria (current criteria are set by Supreme Court Rule 27). Provides if JPEC recommends against judge, judge is not allowed to run for retention election (currently may run even if JPEC recommends against). Approved as amended by Senate Judiciary Committee 3/12/13. Senate Government Operations hearing on 4/10/13.