Fair Courts E-lert: Opinion: Politicization Risks Judicial Independence; Judicial Diversity Considered by CT Gov.

December 2, 2016

JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE

Opinion: Politicization Threatens Judicial Independence

In an opinion piece appearing in The Washington Post, Robert Gebelhoff expressed his concerns that our courts are becoming increasingly politicized, threatening independence. Gebelhoff writes that our country’s framers were “abundantly clear that they didn’t want judges to be popularly elected” due to fears that “[t]oo much outside pressure would likely encourage judges to make decisions that would keep them in power rather than provide a check against the other branches of government.” Gebelhoff’s concerns extend to federal judges as well, who, although not elected, he says appear increasingly susceptible to these pressures. He writes that “it’s difficult to deny that the Supreme Court has become a popularly elected institution” given that the leader of both the House and the Senate “openly declared that they wanted the 2016 election to become a national referendum of sorts to give voters a ‘voice’ in the nomination of the next Supreme Court justice.” He also highlights that during the presidential election “both candidates...not only endors[ed] litmus tests for judges, but also specifically list[ed] the key policy issues that would serve as qualifying factors for their judges.” Gebelhoff concludes that “[w]e need to take a step back and really reconsider what role voters should be playing in our courts.”

DIVERSITY

CT Governor Considers Diversity While Filling Vacancies

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has begun reviewing applicants for vacancies on the state’s trial court, intermediate appellate court and supreme court, writes Mark Pazniokas for The Connecticut Mirror. According to Paznoikas, Malloy’s picks are believed to be “the most diverse collection of judicial nominations ever made by a Connecticut governor.” He writes that “[t]hirty percent of the 47 judges Malloy has nominated to the [trial court] since taking office in January 2011 have been minorities, twice the percentage of those named by his immediate predecessors, Rell and Rowland.” Paznoikas attributes this increase, in part, to “a greater pool of minority lawyers who have cleared scrutiny by the Judicial Selection Commission.” Ross Garber, the counsel to the two previous governors, said that he hasn’t seen “Gov. Malloy apply an ideological litmus test” and that his emphasis has been diversity. Malloy has said that what he “think[s] about is a court that represents the population of the state of Connecticut.” And that he is pleased with his successes “politically, ethnically, [and] racially.”

JUDICIAL SELECTION

Arizona Governor Appoints High Court Justices to Two New Positions Amid Criticism

On Monday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced his appointments to the two recently added seats on the Arizona Supreme Court, according to staff writers at KTAR News. In a press release, Ducey said he had “selected Judge Andrew W. Gould and Arizona Solicitor General John R. Lopez IV as his appointees.” According to the authors, “[l]egislation that added two justices to the state’s Supreme Court was signed in March, despite opposition to the proposal from the high court’s top judge and concerns from critics that the move allows Ducey to ‘pack’ the court.” Chief Justice Scott Bales had sent a letter “urging a veto [because] the court’s caseload doesn’t merit expansion, especially when the Legislature has underfunded other court priorities.” Ducey responded that “he believes the court can be more efficient and take more cases with seven justices instead of the current five” and said critics who said he was trying to pack the court were “just wrong.” He added that “Arizona’s two new justices will be selected under our state’s nationally-renowned merit selection system, which includes nominations of qualified applicants by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments.”

Republican Elected to OH Supreme Court After Close Race

Court of Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell (D) conceded the race to appellate Judge Pat Fischer (R) after a close race for one seat on the Ohio Supreme Court, writes Jim Provance for The Toledo Blade. According to Provance, “[a]fter all the unofficial votes had been counted on election night, Judge Fischer led Judge O'Donnell in Ohio by a little more than 24,000 votes, or 0.62 percent. But there were still roughly 200,000 provisional ballots...and last-minute absentee ballot arrivals to be counted.” Judge O’Donnell said “he was disappointed but had called his opponent...and congratulated him on a ‘hard-fought win.’” Judge Fischer said he’d “like to thank Judge John O'Donnell, and [that he] enjoyed the opportunity to speak with him. ...He ran a good campaign and I wish him the very best in the future.” Republicans were elected to all three state supreme court seats on the ballot this fall, maintaining their “control of the state’s high court by a 6-1 margin.”