Trends to watch for in 2014 session: merit selection, retirement age, judicial salaries, retirement systems, int’l/sharia law use by state courts

Going into the 2014 session there will be a lot of carryover from the 2013 session. I anticipate the following topics coming back and playing an active role in the next 180 days.

1) Merit selection: As I mentioned in my article for Trends in State Courts, all signs are pointing to legislatures tinkering with their merit selection system at the appellate level.

  • Arizona: After having tried to change the number of names the governor receives by constitutional amendment (rejected in 2012) the legislature tried to make a similar change by statute, which was struck down by the state’s supreme court. It is possible the legislature will try again.
  • Florida: The state’s governor is allowed to pick the attorney-members of the merit selection commissions, based on lists provided by the bar. Recently the governor has taken to rejecting the bar recommendations wholesale. Given that the legislature has pushed several different methods to amend or end the merit selection system outright in prior years, including a 2012 constitutional amendment, it seems likely the issue has not ended.
  • Kansas: Efforts to eliminate their merit system for the Court of Appeals were enacted in 2013; ending the merit selection system for the Supreme Court requires a 2/3rds vote to get onto the ballot which they got in the Senate but not the House in 2013
  • Oklahoma: The state senate passed an effort to end merit selection in the state, while the House Speaker has announced he’s interested in changes but not for election of judges.

That said, look to see possible movement to adopt merit selection in Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

2) Judicial Retirement: With 2013 posting a record or near-record number of attempts to increase mandatory judicial retirement ages, including advancement of such proposals to the ballot in Hawaii and New York, 2014 looks to continue the trend.

3) Judicial Salaries: As the January 2013 Survey of Judicial Salaries noted states were already starting to show signs of beginning to increase judicial salaries following the recession years. Salary increases will likely come back into the discussion in 2014 as well.

4) Retirement Systems: Many states have separate, or at least separately operated, retirement systems for judges in particular or the judiciary in general. With more and more attention being drawn to their financial situation, expect to see some activity in terms of restructuring the system, the benefits, or both.

5) Sharia/international law bans: This will mark the fifth year in a row bills to ban court use of international or sharia law will be debated. Missouri’s vetoed 2013 version has already been reintroduced with modifications reflecting the veto and others are already in the works.

6) Initiatives: The wild card in terms of legislation. So far the initiative front has been fairly quiet aside from two items in Missouri to end merit selection (2014-047 and 2014-048) and it is unclear if those petitions are being circulated.