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Friday, September 24, 2010

Ind. Courts - "Judge selection process could use public input"

That is the headline to this letter to the editor today in the Indianapolis Star, written by Jonathan Watson and Mia Reini. The Star indicates that Watson is an attorney in South Bend and Reini is a policy specialist for the University of Notre Dame.

The letter criticizes Indiana's method of selecting appellate judges. A quote:

Of the three basic methods of state judicial selection used in the United States today, the Missouri Plan is the least accountable to voters. In the election system used in many other states, voters elect the members of their state Supreme Court. The federal method, used by several other states, involves some variance on nomination by the governor followed by state Senate confirmation. Although less populist, this method nonetheless involves indirect accountability to the people, through the election of their governor and state senators.

The Missouri Plan used in Indiana departs greatly from these two more democratic methods, in that the Judicial Nominating Commission has no accountability to the people of Indiana. Moreover, justices are subject only to "retention" votes, whereby voters are asked whether a justice should remain on the bench. Few justices in such "retention" states are ever challenged, much less removed.

Commission-selection systems result in courts that are unrepresentative of the population. This is a problem for Indiana, one of two states with no female Supreme Court justices.
A recent article by the American Bar Association discusses gains made by females in the South, where the percentage of women in the judiciary is much higher than in states usually cited as "progressive." Interestingly, these states use judicial selection methods that are either directly or indirectly accountable to the people.

In Indiana, a select few are responsible for deciding who will comprise our Supreme Court. Ultimately, the state legislature will be the agent to change this system, but it will never do so unless we, as citizens, begin the debate.

ILB: The implication is that Indiana's method of selecting its appellate judges is the reason there are no women on the Supreme Court and that even the "federal system" would work better.

Interestingly, one of the letter's "pro-woman justice" writers, Mia Reini, who is the general counsel at Notre Dame, has also argued (in items quickly located via Google) that Elena Kagen is unqualified and that Sonia Sotomayor is a radical -- both products of the federal selection system.

The ILB also received this morning this message from a DC PR firm:

In case you missed, I wanted to make sure you saw this op-ed posted in the Indy Star today by Jonathan Watson and Mia Reini: Judge selection process could use public input

Judicial selection reform seems to be becoming a bigger issue in Indiana – especially as national figures sizing up Gov. Daniels’ as a potential presidential candidate begin to weight in. (For instance, Gary Marx has a piece about it on NRO’s Bench Memos this week.) Let me know if you decide to post Jonathan’s and Mia’s piece on ILB.

So I took a look at the Marx piece in National Review. It is headed "Mitch's Merit." Some quotes:
For instance, he is an outspoken supporter of Indiana’s version of the Missouri Plan, the so-called “merit” selection system for selecting judges that requires the governor to select from a panel of judicial nominees chosen by a commission dominated by lawyers. (I prefer to call it the “merit deception” plan.) In 2009, after overwhelming majorities of the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation scrapping that system in northern Indiana’s St. Joseph County, Governor Daniels vetoed the legislation. But apparently it wasn’t enough to veto legislation that conservative legislators in other states would have been thrilled to pass. In his veto message, Governor Daniels had to praise the system:
The current method of selecting judges for the St. Joseph Superior Court has prevailed successfully for 35 years. It is a model to be emulated, not discarded. It is not broken; it requires no repair. It has produced outstanding jurists and contains sufficient measures of public accountability. I believe it neither necessary nor wise to re-politicize the courts of St. Joseph County.
Interesting talking points. They sound remarkably similar to the talking points the Left’s legal arm — through groups like the ABA and the Soros-funded Justice at Stake — has been using to attack conservatives who support Missouri Plan reforms in other states. If Daniels had been wearing his wonk hat that day, he would have realized that he was praising a form of judicial selection designed by Progressive Era lawyers who wanted “experts” to engineer every aspect of American life. By vetoing that legislation, and using those talking points, he carried water for a dangerous and extremely well-funded coalition of special-interest groups who would like our courts to be captured by liberal judicial activists.
The article goes on to discuss both Judge Moberly and Judge David -- you all will have to read that for yourselves.

Finally, Jim Bopp, Indiana's Republican National Committeeman, a position appointed by the Governor, has within the last month brought a lawsuit challenging how Kansas supreme court justices are appointed. See these ILB entries, including the one from August 29, 2010, which matches up the Kansas and Indiana systems.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 24, 2010 11:25 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts