Hawaii: vote on bill for election of judges put on hold until March 2, but Senate reconfirmation advances out of committee

The Hawaii Senate Judiciary and Labor committee met yesterday to take up several bills that would change the state’s merit/commission based system of appointment of judges. While a plan to move towards elections met with fierce opposition (per media reports) and a decision on that bill was delayed, other proposals did advance.

As a reminder Hawaii’s current system is made up of 2 elements:

  • Election for initial terms: Currently a list of nominees is sent by the Judicial Selection Commission to the governor (supreme court, intermediate appellate court, circuit court) or chief justice (district court) to select from. After a nominee is chosen he or she is subject to senate confirmation.
  • Additional terms: currently judges seeking to remain in office go back before the Judicial Selection Commission for evaluation and re-approval; neither the governor nor the chief justice nor the senate is involved.

Approved

  • SB 2238 requires the judiciary, office of elections, and campaign spending commission to study appropriate methods of implementing a judicial election system in the state and submit a written report, including proposed legislation, to the legislature.
  • SB 2420 a constitutional amendment that retains merit selection of judges but provides judges seeking additional terms in office must be reapproved by the judicial selection commission and reconfirmed by the senate (currently only need be reapproved by judicial selection commission). Moreover the plan provides that if the senate fails to act within 90 days, the judge is returned to office by default.
  • SB 2498 a constitutional amendment that addresses the issue of Senate confirmation. The bill requires written notice of an appointment to the senate for advice and consent concurrent with the governor, judicial selection commission, or chief justice’s making of the appointment. The amendment clarifies that the senate’s thirty-day period to reject a judicial appointment begins on the senate’s receipt of written notice of the governor’s, chief justice’s, or judicial selection commission’s appointment.

Delayed until March 2

  • SB 2239 a constitutional amendment that ends merit selection of judges. Instead, justices and judges would be initially elected to serve six-year terms and be subject to the consent of the senate for subsequent judicial terms.