Does a merit selection system for judicial selection require retention elections? Tennessee Senate Judiciary committee says: maybe.

Since its implementation in the 1970s, the “Tennessee Plan” of selection for appellate court judges has been subject to numerous lawsuits and contentions. Among the issues: does a merit selection appointment system plus yes/no retention elections meet the requirement under Tennessee’s Constitution that appellate judges be “elected by the qualified voters of the state” (Art VI. Sec. 3)? Litigation surrounding the subject has said that yes, a yes/no retention election does qualify in State ex rel. Higgins v. Dunn (496 S.W.2d 480 (1973)). Several additional lawsuits were filed over the years challenging the findings, but none succeeded.

SJR 183 of 2011 purports “to unequivocally authorize the general assembly, by statute, to establish a system of merit-based appointments with retention elections for appellate court judges.” The original text of the amendment was to have amended Art. VI, Sec. 3 to include

As an alternative to contested elections, the Legislature is authorized to establish, by law, a system of merit-based appointments with retention elections for the judges of the Supreme Court and for the judges of the intermediate appellate courts.

However, what came out of the Senate Judiciary committee on April 26 was amended to make doubly clear retention elections in particular were merely an option at the legislature’s discretion (click here and here for news reports of the meeting). The provision would now read

As an alternative to contested elections, the Legislature is authorized to establish, by law, a system of merit-based appointments with or without retention elections for the judges of the Supreme Court and for the judges of the intermediate appellate courts.

Thus, the potential for a future legislature to authorize merit selection for initial terms but require contested elections for subsequent terms, or to scrap the whole lot and shift to all contested elections at every stage/step.

These efforts are in addition to two other legislative options. The first (SB 127/HB 173) would expressly do away with retention elections and appointment and require elections. The Senate version cleared the Judiciary Committee on April 20; the House version cleared the House Judiciary’s General Subcommittee back in March.

The second is simply to wait the merit selection system out, as almost occurred two years ago. The legislation authorizing the state’s Judicial Selection Commission automatically sunsets automatically every few years. The Commission was listed under Tennessee Code 4-29-229 as set to expire June 30, 2008 (+ 1 year “wind down” to June 30, 2009).

A heavily modified commission with new membership criteria was approved at literally the last minute (June 25, 2009) as SB 1573. However, this mere extended the life of the Judicial Selection Commission and the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (which reviews judges prior to retention elections) until June 30, 2012, as per 4-29-233. With a one year wind down, this still means the legislature must re-authorize the Commissions by June 30, 2013.

The legislature is expected to adjourn sometime in early June.

Judicial Retirement Plans/Pensions 2011: Southern States

Alabama HB 414 Provides for increases in employee contributions for retirement to Judicial Retirement Fund:  7.25% of salary (May 2011 – October 2011); 8.4% (October 2011 – October 2012); 9% (October 2012 onward).

Florida HB 1139 & SB 290 Provides after July 2011, all judges/justices are to receive judicial retirement credit of 2% (currently 3.33%) of average final compensation for each year of creditable service as a judge/justice.

Florida HB 1405 Changes employer contribution rates for judges/justices from 20.65% to 7.26%. Reduces the disability rate for justices and judges to one third of his or her monthly compensation. AMENDED: Changes employer contribution rates for judges/justices from 20.65% to 15.19%. Establishes additional employer contribution rates for the purpose of funding the unfunded actuarial liabilities: 0.39% (effective July 2011) and 12.05% (effective July 2012). Removes reduction and maintains the current disability benefit for justices and judges.

Georgia HB 250 Provides Georgia Judicial Retirement System member who rejected survivor’s benefits may elect such benefits by paying the actuarial cost. For those becoming members allows one-time election to convert the retirement allowance otherwise payable to him or her into a modified retirement allowance of equivalent actuarial value and designate a natural person to receive. Provides for the event of death or divorce of member of system and for the payment of the remainder of a member’s accumulated contributions.

Georgia HB 344 Provides juvenile court judges and other members of Georgia Judicial Retirement System may obtain creditable service for prior service as a full-time associate juvenile court judge.

Georgia HB 533 Permits transfer of funds from the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia to the Georgia Judicial Retirement System by judges and to obtain creditable service. Expands transfer of funds authority to include juvenile court judges.

Georgia HB 542 Permits transfer of funds from the Georgia Judicial Retirement System to the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia and to obtain creditable service. Expands transfer of funds authority to include juvenile court judges.

Kentucky HB 480 ORIGINAL: Requires members of the Judicial Form Retirement System and other specified retirement systems who are not subject to legislative or judicial branch code of ethics shall be subject to the executive branch code of ethics. Requires the audit of the Judicial Form Retirement System by the Auditor of Public Accounts at least once every five years and require the system to pay all costs of the audit. Prohibits members of the Judicial Form Retirement System from serving more than three consecutive terms of office on the board and prohibits the board chairman from serving more than six consecutive years as chairman. Prohibits assets of the Judicial Form Retirement System from being used to pay placement agents. Requires the Judicial Form Retirement System to make system expenditures and employee salaries available on a Web site. Establishes conflict-of-interest provisions applicable to trustees and employees of the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement System. AMENDED: Deletes measures affecting the Judicial Form Retirement System board term limits, board chair term limits, expand or establish conflicts of interest requirements for board members and employees of the board; require the Auditor of Public Accounts to conduct the system financial audit.

Kentucky SB 2 Closes Judicial Retirement Plan to new members effective July 1, 2012. Allows those in Judicial Retirement Plan with less than 5 years of service to transfer their membership and account balance to the Public Employees Retirement System.

Maryland SB 6 Provides that, on or after July 1, 2011, an individual not already a member of the Judges’ Retirement System may not join.

Maryland SB 735 Provides that, on or after July 1, 2011, an individual not already a member of the Judges’ Retirement System may not join.

Mississippi HB 464 & SB 2154 Includes all remuneration or amounts paid (except mileage allowance) to Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of the Court of Appeals as “earned compensation” for retirement fund purposes.

Oklahoma HB 1005 Creates the Task Force on Pension Benefit Funding and Security to examine Judges and Justice Retirement System and other systems.

Oklahoma HB 1006 Creates Task Force on Pension Benefit Funding and Security to examine judge’s retirement system and other retirement systems.

Oklahoma HB 1010 AS AMENDED: Modifies provisions related to normal retirement age for members entering the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges on or after January 1, 2012. Eliminates the provision whereby a member with 8 years of judicial service may retire when the sum of their age and years of service equals or exceeds 80. Decreases the multiplier used to calculate the retirement benefit for members entering  on or after January 1, 2012 from 4% to 2%.

Oklahoma HB 2057 Prohibits cost of living adjustment for Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges unless system has a funded ratio which equals or exceeds85%

Oklahoma HB 2132 Modifies judicial and other retirement systems funding ratios and cost of living adjustments. Changes the definition of a “nonfiscal retirement bill” by removing the provision that allows a cost-of-living increase to be considered nonfiscal. Stipulates that any retirement bill having a fiscal impact is subject to the statutory requirements related to concurrent funding.

Oklahoma SB 53 Eliminates provision allowing up to five years of prior military service to be entered as credit towards the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges.

Oklahoma SB 310 Creates the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges Reform Act of 2011 (placeholder).

Oklahoma SB 311 Creates the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges Reform Act of 2011 (placeholder).

Oklahoma SJR 19 (Constitutional Amendment) Requires the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges to have a funded ratio which equals or exceeds 90%.

South Carolina HB 3568 & SB 531 Closes state retirement system for judges and solicitors to future judges and requires they enroll in state’s retirement investment plan instead.

Tennessee HB 1622SB 1498 Revises retirement provisions for general sessions judges from Group 1 to Group 4 level.

Texas HB 390 & SB 1223 Modifies service retirement annuity for appellate judges under the Judicial Retirement System Plan Two.

An examination of 2011 sharia law & international law bans before state legislatures

This post has been updated. Click here and here.

Welcome Thinkprogress.org, Stateline, Opinio Juris and HLPR readers! Enjoy and sign up for Gavel to Gavel the weekly edition here.

In 2010, several states proposed bans on the use of sharia or international law (prior blog posts here and here; Gavel to Gavel the publication special focus issue here). The Oklahoma version (which was limited to the state’s courts) was approved by voters in the state in November 2010, but a restraining order has been issued as part of a Federal lawsuit against the state constitutional amendment. The relevant portions (another part renamed the State Industrial Court to the State Worker’s Compensation court) read:

The Courts provided for in subsection A of this section [i.e. Oklahoma’s state courts], when exercising their judicial authority, shall uphold and adhere to the law as provided in the United States Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution, the United States Code, federal regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, established common law, the Oklahoma Statutes and rules promulgated pursuant thereto, and if necessary the law of another state of the United States provided the law of the other state does not include Sharia Law, in making judicial decisions. The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international or Sharia Law. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression.

Constitutional Amendments

Undaunted by the Federal court action, Wyoming has introduced its own version (HJR 8):

When exercising their judicial authority the courts of this state shall uphold and adhere to the law as provided in the constitution of the United States, the Wyoming constitution, the United States Code and federal regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, laws of this state, established common law as specified by legislative enactment, and if necessary the law of another state of the United States provided the law of the other state does not include Sharia law. The courts shall not consider the legal precepts of other nations or cultures including, without limitation, international law and Sharia law. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression.

Texas also has a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 57):

A court of this state shall uphold the laws of the Constitution of the United States, this Constitution, federal laws, and laws of this state. A court of this state may not enforce, consider, or apply any religious or cultural law.

Arizona’s proposed constitutional amendment (SCR 1010 of 2011)  is a modified version of various 2010 bills (HB 2379, SB 1026, SB 1396) that would have made statutory changes only:

In making judicial decisions, the courts provided for in subsection A [i.e. Arizona’s state courts], when exercising their judicial authority, shall uphold and adhere to the law as provided in the United States Constitution, the constitution of this state, the United States Code, federal regulations adopted pursuant to the United States Code, established common law, the laws of this state and rules adopted pursuant to the laws of this state and, if necessary, the laws of another state of the United States provided the law of the other state does not include international law.  The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures.  The courts shall not consider international law.

South Dakota’s House is also considering adding the following to their constitution (HJR 1004)

No such court [i.e. South Dakota state court] may apply international law, the law of any foreign nation, or any foreign religious or moral code with the force of law in the adjudication of any case under its jurisdiction.


Statutes


While Oklahoma was amending its constitution, Tennessee (HB 3768/SB 3470) *and Louisiana (HB 785) adopted statutes in 2010 that addressed the use of international law. That law* has been introduced almost verbatim in 2011 in Arkansas (SB 97), Kansas (HB 2087), Nebraska (LB 647), and Oklahoma (HB 1552). Interestingly, the Tennessee law and its variations in the other states are not specifically limited to state courts, only.

As used in this act, “law, legal code, or legal system” means a law, legal code, or legal system used or applied in any jurisdiction outside of Tennessee, including any foreign state, jurisdiction, country or territory of the United States…Any court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency ruling or decision shall violate the public policy of this state and be void and unenforceable if the court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency bases its rulings or decisions in the matter at issue in whole or in part on any foreign law, legal code, or system that would not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the same fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the United States Constitution and the [name of state] Constitution.

*Update: there was a Louisiana version as well in 2010, HB 785 prefiled 3/18/2010 that was enacted.

“Foreign law” means any law, rule, or legal code or system established and used or applied in a jurisdiction outside of the states or territories of the United States…A court, arbitrator, administrative agency, or other adjudicative, mediation, or enforcement authority shall not enforce a foreign law if doing so would violate a right guaranteed by the constitution of this state or of the United States.

However, the Tennessee version was filed 2/2/2010 in the House and 1/28/2010 in the Senate. Therefore, I still think it valid to call it the Tennessee version.

Alaska (SB 88), Georgia (HB 45), Indiana (SJR 16), Mississippi (HB 301 and HB 525), South Carolina (SB 444) and Texas (HB 911) have variations on the Tennessee version, although only Mississippi HB 301 specifically mentions sharia law:

Alaska: A court, arbitrator, mediator, administrative agency, or enforcement agency may not apply a foreign law if application of the foreign law would violate an individual’s right guaranteed by the Constitution of the State of Alaska or the United States Constitution….In this section, “foreign law” means a law, rule, or legal code or system established and used or applied in a jurisdiction outside of the United States and the territories of the United States.

Georgia: As used in this Code section, the term ‘foreign law’ means any law, rule, or legal code or system established and used or applied in a jurisdiction outside of the United States or its territories…A court, arbitrator, administrative agency, or other tribunal shall not enforce a foreign law if doing so would violate a right guaranteed by the Constitution of this state or of the United States.

Indiana: A court may not enforce a law, rule, or legal code or system established and either used or applied in a jurisdiction outside the states of the United States, the District of Columbia, or the territories of the United States if doing so would violate a right guaranteed by this constitution or the Constitution of the United States.

Mississippi HB 301: “Foreign law” means any law, rule, or legal code or system established and used or applied in a jurisdiction outside of the states or territories of the United States including Sharia Law…A court, arbitrator, administrative agency, or other adjudicative, mediation, or enforcement authority shall not enforce a foreign law if doing so would violate a right guaranteed by the Constitution of this state or of the United States.

Mississippi HB 525: “Foreign law” means any law, rule, or legal code or system established and used or applied in a jurisdiction outside of the states or territories of the United States…A court, arbitrator, administrative agency, or other adjudicative, mediation, or enforcement authority shall not enforce a foreign law if doing so would violate a right guaranteed by the Constitution of this state or of the United States.

Nebraska: For purposes of this section, foreign law, legal code, or system means any law, legal code, or system of a jurisdiction outside of any state or territory of the United States, including, but not limited to, an international organization or tribunal, and applied by such jurisdiction’s courts, administrative bodies, or other formal or informal tribunals…A court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency ruling or decision shall violate the public policy of this state and be void and unenforceable if the court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency bases its rulings on any foreign law, legal code, or system that would not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decisions the same fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Nebraska.

South Carolina: As used in this section, the term ‘foreign law’ means any law, rule, or legal code or system established and used or applied in or by another jurisdiction outside of the United States or its territories….A court, arbitrator, administrative agency, or other adjudicative, mediation, or enforcement authority may not enforce a foreign law if it would violate a constitutionally guaranteed right of this State or of the United States. The provisions of this section apply only to actual or foreseeable violations of the constitutional rights of a person caused by the application of the foreign law.

Texas: In this chapter, “foreign law” means a law, rule, or legal code of a jurisdiction outside of the states and territories of the United States…A ruling or decision of a court, arbitrator, or administrative adjudicator may not be based on a foreign law if the application of that law would violate a right guaranteed by the United States Constitution or the constitution of this state.

Judicial Councils

Judicial Councils vary from state to state, ranging from advisory bodies to formal policy makers and setters. Three states are wrestling with the possibility of eliminating these bodies.

Virginia’s HB 240 would eliminate the Council and transfer its responsibilities to the Supreme Court or the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court (the official title for the state court administrator).

New Hampshire, on the other hand, is seeking to save its Judicial Council. In 2009, the state’s legislature passed as part of its appropriations bill a provision (144:87) automatically ending “all non-regulatory boards, commissions, councils, advisory committees, and task forces in state government created by statute or administrative rule” on June 30, 2011 unless new authorizing legislation was approved. HB 1689 would keep the Judicial Council in operation.

Tennessee’s Judicial Council is facing a similar automatic sunset. Statutorily, the Council expired June 30, 2009 and is currently in its one-year “wind down” phase. HB 1016 and SB 374 would extend it until June 2017 while HB 1102 and SB 373 would grant it only until June 2010. HB 1102 was approved on a 90-5 vote on June 3, 2009 while the Senate version was deferred until 2010.