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The Conservative Takeover of State Judiciaries

The Conservative Takeover of State Judiciaries

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Todd Phillips and Andrew Blotsky summarize the history behind legislative pushes that would enable governors to replace competent state judges, a power that would, in practice, result in more conservative replacements in states across the country.
Todd Phillips and Andrew Blotsky summarize the history behind legislative pushes that would enable governors to replace competent state judges, a power that would, in practice, result in more conservative replacements in states across the country.

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Published by: Center for American Progress on Aug 10, 2012
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1Center or American Progress |  The Conservative Takeover o State Judiciaries
 The Conservative Takeover of State Judiciaries
Ballot Referendums to Watch
 Todd Phillips and Andrew Blotky August 13, 2012
Introduction
Since he New Deal, despie several atemps, no sae in our naion has shied o asysem or seaing sae cour judges ha makes hese judges more vulnerable o poliics.Bu ha migh well change his year. Tis November, ballo measures in hree saes would poliicize sae cours in an unprecedened way, calling ino serious quesion wheher he ciizens in hose saes can ge a air day in cour.Legislaors in 24 saes proposed legislaion during he pas legislaive session (2011–2012) ha would enable governors o replace compeen sae judges, a power ha would, in pracice, resul in more conservaive replacemens in saes across he counry.Legislaors in Missouri, Florida, and Arizona managed o place reerendums on hisNovember’s ballo ha i approved by voers would severely resric judicial indepen-dence and belie he promise o airness beore he law. Sae judges ha are expecedo proec ciizens’ righs will become more and more aligned wih conservaive andcorporae ineress.Te reason: Conservaives are behind he majoriy o hese eors. Aer ailing oachieve heir preerred policy oucomes hough he legislaive process or he ballo box,hese individuals are now urning heir sighs on he cours. No only is much a sakeor progressive policy causes, bu even worse, he healh o our democracy and he pub-lic’s aih in our sysem o jusice are a risk, oo. Judges, in heir role inerpreing laws and sae consiuions, are mean o remain abovepoliics, proeced rom shiing poliical winds and he yranny o a majoriy swayed by curren evens. Tis is why ederal judges have lieime appoinmens—o insulae hemrom he whims o poliics. Speaking direcly o his poin, U.S. Supreme Cour Chie  Jusice John G. Robers said a his conrmaion hearing ha “judges are no poliicians.
1
 Ye as imporan as hey are, sae judges are much less insulaed rom poliics han ed-eral judges in many saes. Indeed, judges in 39 saes are seaed on he bench hrough
 
2Center or American Progress |  The Conservative Takeover o State Judiciaries
elecions jus as parisan (and paid or by special ineress) as hose or governor andsae legislaors. Tis migh no have been a serious problem in he pas bu i is oday,ollowing he huge inux o conservaive money o judicial elecion campaigns in helas several years.Consider a ew recen examples. In 2010 Iowa voershrew ou hree jusices who upheld same-sex mar-riage (and conservaives will likely atemp o hrow ou a ourh his year)
2
aer conservaive groupspoured housands o dollars ino he sae.
3
And in2011 conservaive advocacy groups spen he mosmoney ever in a Wisconsin Supreme Cour elecionas a reerendum on Gov. Scot Walker’s aniunionpolicies, pouring more han $3.5 million ino hecampaign o secure he sae chie jusice’s sea orconservaives.
4
 I is imporan or anyone who cares abouhe healh o our democracy and he abiliy o  Americans o vindicae heir consiuional righso wach he oucome o hese ballo measures. I any o hese hree pass, conservaives in he ohersaes will be emboldened. Wih he knowledge haa reerendum passed in one sae and i may passin anoher, legislaors in he 21 oher saes wherelegislaion was inroduced will increase pressureo pass heir own legislaion, and legislaors in any o he 26 ohers may inroduce new bills. Judges inevery sae may ace increased pressure o lean conservaive in heir judicial oucomes,aecing all Americans, due o anicipaed elecion assauls by conservaives.I is clear he conservaive movemen across he naion will be waching he resuls o hese reerendums and planning or 2014. I is imporan or progressives o be wachingas well. Below are summaries o he hisory behind each legislaive push and he poen-ially adverse oucomes i he voers in hese saes approve he measures.
Missouri
Missouri currenly selecs supreme cour jusices hrough a meri selecion process haaims o achieve a srong, independen judiciary.
5
Te Appellae Judicial Commissioncomposed o he chie jusice o he Missouri Supreme Cour, hree members o he barassociaion, and hree ciizens who serve our-year erms selecs several judicial nomi-
FIGURE 1
Judicial shape shifting
States where constitutional referendums are on the ballot this comingelection year in which the process for selecting state court judges couldbe made more political
Constitutional referendum
On the ballot
Constitutional referendum
Introduced
Legislation
Introduced
Source: Legal Progress research of state legislatures and state Secretaries of State websites.
 
3Center or American Progress |  The Conservative Takeover o State Judiciaries
nees o send o he governor, who hen chooses one nominee o become a judge. Aereach erm in ofce, Missourians voe o reain or dismiss he judge.Te meri selecion process ensures ha he governor appoins only qualied, apoliical judges, as he commitee will only nominae qualied, apoliical judicial candidaes due ois divorce rom poliics. Yes, poliics eners he equaion once he judge aces he voers, bu because o he meri-based appoinmen process, he iniial appoinmen o he judgeis based on a nonparisan review o a nominee’s compeency, inegriy, and emperamen.Te conservaive-conrolled legislaure is rying o change he makeup o he commis-sion o give he governor more conrol over he candidaes i selecs. S.J.R. 51, a reer-endum suppored in he legislaure by 102 Republicans and 1 Democra, would replacehe chie jusice wih a nonvoing reired jusice, and would allow he governor oappoin a ourh, nonatorney member as he ie-breaking voe.
6
Tis would enable hegovernor o bring his or her own poliical philosophies direcly o bear on he appoin-men process beore he voers ever ge a say on he mater.Making he Appellae Judicial Commission more atuned o he winds o poliics would be severely derimenal o judicial independence. I he our appoined commissionersare all o he same pary, he mos poliically conneced individuals will become judgesa he expense o beter qualied, more independen candidaes. Missouri Bar PresidenLynn Vogel has saed ha he plan benes people who have “given enough money ohe governor.
7
Jusice William Price has announced ha he will reire on Augus 1 oensure his successor is chosen “by he same … nonparisan meri plan ha has served[Missouri] so well or he pas 70 years.
8
Tese and oher asue observers recognizeha i he reerendum passes, pary loyaly and adherence o ideology will become moreimporan han qualicaions.Tis shi will become apparen immediaely. Raher han allowing he curren appoin-ees o nish heir erms, S.J.R. 51 allows he nex governor o appoin all our memberso he commission a once in January 2013 and replace wo o hem in January 2015,ensuring he governor’s inuence or a leas six years.Unlike oher legislaion limiing judges’ independence, S.J.R. 51 was no he resul o a judicial conroversy. A ormer Missouri Republican Pary chairman esied in com-mitee ha sae judges “haven’ done anyhing o he people ha ourages hem.”
9
TeMissouri cour has no legalized same-sex marriage or declared he deah penaly uncon-siuional. Insead, S.J.R. 51 is he culminaion o hal a decade’s worh o work on hepar o conservaives dismayed ha he cour will no bend o conservaive ideology onissues such as medical malpracice and or reorm.In 2007 Republican Gov. Mat Blun sirred conroversy, claiming ha he nominaingcommission broke he law by meeing wihou public scruiny, as sae supreme cour

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