Utah: House member “diversity considerations take us away from choosing judges on the basis of merit.”

Who gets to set the criteria for the Utah Judicial Nomination Commissions when evaluating judicial nominees? Under a bill (HB 93) recently passed by the House Government Operations Committee that answer might be the legislature alone.

First, some background.

Prior to 2010, the state’s Judicial Council enacted “evaluation criteria for the selection of judicial nominees.” In 2010 that power was transferred to the executive branch’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) as part of HB 289 although the Judicial Council was to be “consulted” regarding the rules.

The criteria now include:

(a) integrity;

(b) legal knowledge and ability;

(c) professional experience;

(d) judicial temperament;

(e) work ethic;

(f) financial responsibility;

(g) public service;

(h) ability to perform the work of a judge; and

(i) impartiality.

Diversity was struck last year after lawmakers expressed concerns.

Under HB 93 neither the Judicial Council nor the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice would have the power to set “evaluation criteria for the selection of judicial nominees.”

During debate, the author indicated his concerns over efforts at attaining a diverse bench in the state (starting at 44:10)

My concern is that when CCJJ adds gloss and additional considerations to what we have in the statute they necessary drift away from and dilute the standards that we have set up to find the best judges based only on merit. As we’ve talked about, the diversity considerations take us away from choosing judges on the basis of merit.

Opponents were concerned that the judicial nomination processes “wasn’t broke” and therefore this bill was unnecessary.

After a motion to hold the bill in committee failed, it was approved 5-4 and sent to the full House.