Amid criticism, Rhode Island may not extend for another year “temporary” revision to state’s merit selection system extended for 6 years in a row

Rhode Island makes use of a form of merit selection for its main courts: candidates are vetted by a nominating commission and a slate of 3-5 names is submitted to the governor, who then selects a person subject to legislative confirmation (both chambers for Supreme; Senate alone for District, Family, and Superior).

This had been the practice from 1994 to 2007. Since 2007, and per R.I. General Laws 8.16.1-6(4), the law mandated 3-5 names alone submitted for a vacancy has been effectively suspended and replaced with a new provision annually. The new system still requires 3-5 names to be submitted to the governor, but it also makes eligible the names of anyone previously submitted by the judicial nominating commission in the previous 5 years for the same court. Thus a vacancy results in 3-5 names being submitted to the governor PLUS possible dozens from previous vetting. For prior, detailed coverage see this post from the 2012 extension.

The result has been controversy that the entire merit selection system has been “undermined.” For example, current-Governor Lincoln Chafee nominated in May 2013 a former Senate president for a Superior Court vacancy, based on the former Senator’s vetting in August 2010. In addition the Governor was criticized for failing to make appointments in the time allotted by statute (21 days for some courts).

Gavel Grab has done extensive coverage of the issue.

The provision allowing for all prior names in the last five years to be considered as valid is set to expire June 30, 2013. The two bills that would give yet another 1 year extension (HB 5669 / SB 471) to the program are on the verge of failure. HB 5669 was heard in the House Judiciary Committee April 9 and held in the committee. The Senate’s Judiciary Committee similarly held that chamber’s version on May 23.

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