South Dakota: Initiated Constitutional Amendment would require judges recuse for campaign contributions; new State Government Accountability Board would have power over judges

A proposed South Dakota constitutional amendment, currently circulating for signatures, could require the state’s judges to recuse in cases involving campaign contributors.

In 2016 voters in the state passed IM 22, amending state statutes related to campaign finance and lobbying laws. While approved by voters, the legislature effectively rewrote and overturned the measure during its 2017 session.

In June proponents of IM returned with a new proposal, this time a constitutional amendment, that includes some of IM 22’s provisions and several new ones, including one focused on judges.

Under Section 11 of the proposed constitutional amendment

A judge shall avoid the appearance of bias, and shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which monetary or in-kind support related to the judge’s election or retention creates an appearance of bias to a reasonable person.

Circuit judges in South Dakota are subject to non-partisan elections, while South Dakota Supreme Court judges are appointed via a merit/commission based system and subject to yes/no retention elections.

In addition the legislatively created State Government Accountability Board would be replaced with a new board of the same name with the power to investigate both legislators and judges, including the power to adopt rules of ethics that would be binding on judges and to investigate judges for violations of those ethics or existing ethics/corruptions statutes. Moreover, the Board would have the power to impose sanctions on judges.

The initiative requires 27,741 signatures to be gathered and submitted to the secretary of state by November 2017 to appear on the November 2018 ballot.