Fair Courts E-lert: UT Commission Will No Longer Consider Diversity; Opinions Released in WV Public Financing Cases

April 29, 2016

STATE JUDICIAL SELECTION

UT Judicial Nominating Commission Will No Longer Consider Diversity

Utah’s judicial nominating commissions, which vet judicial applicants, will strike a provision on diversity from its application form and no longer consider it when  selecting judges to recommend to the governor, writes Robert Gehrke of The Salt Lake Tribune. Republicans on the Legislature's Administrative Rules Committee (LARC) said the provision should be removed because the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ), which coordinates the nominating commissions, had “not gone through a rule-making process to include diversity in the selection criteria, but had put it on the application anyway.” The article noted that Rep. Merrill Nelson (R-Grantsville), who supported striking the language, “said that diversity will happen gradually over time as more women and minorities graduate from law school and work their way up in the legal field.” Rep. Carol Spackman Moss (D-Holladay) disagreed, saying that removing the provision “looks like an attempt to deliberately discriminate and follow the same old same old and get the typical male judge — a middle-aged, white, male judge.” Ron Gordon, executive director of the CCJJ, agreed to remove the provision, but added that “he would begin a rule-making process to satisfy the legislators and bring the new rule back to the committee for review.”

PUBLIC FINANCING

WV Supreme Court Releases Opinions in Public Financing Cases

On Tuesday, the West Virginia Supreme Court released two opinions explaining why Supreme Court candidates William “Bill” Wooton and Brent Benjamin were eligible for public financing, writes Chris Dickerson of The West Virginia Record. The Court had ruled without opinions in favor of Wooton and Benjamin on March 23 , after their eligibility was challenged by fellow candidate Beth Walker. Dickerson writes that in its opinion in the Wooton case, the court reasoned “it would be a far stretch to conclude that the certification of Petitioner Wooten for public funding in any way abridges or chills Respondent Walker’s free speech rights.” Dickerson also writes “Wooton’s late submission of his campaign finance statement didn’t affect anyone’s campaign other than Wooton’s, ‘let alone caused any prejudice or harm to anyone.’” In the Benjamin opinion, the Court ruled Benjamin was eligible for a hardship exemption in connection with a late filing, explaining that “they saw no evidence that Benjamin always intended to seek public financing but waited as long as possible before making it official.” Meanwhile, outside spending in the race has topped $1 million.

JUDICIAL VACANCY

Senators Debate Precedent for Holding Hearing on Merrick Garland

Tuesday, Sens. Orin Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) debated the duty of the Senate to hold a hearing on U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland, according to Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post.  DeBonis wrote that Hatch called the appointment process “an example of how America’s founders sought to limit government power by dividing it,” and said the Constitution “does not mandate a one-size-fits-all confirmation process but leaves these judgment calls for the Senate to make.”  Leahy recalled the late Ted Kennedy, who he believed “knew that sometimes you had to be an instigator, sometimes a defender, sometimes a compromiser. But we are called to fulfill our constitutional duties.” Leahy also referenced a letter signed by him and Hatch in 2001, in which they wrote that the Judiciary Committee’s “traditional practice” has been to send all Supreme Court nominees to the Senate floor “regardless of whether a majority of the panel supports the nominee.”  

Justice Prosser to Retire from the WI Supreme Court

Wednesday, Justice David Prosser announced his intention to retire from the Wisconsin Supreme Court on July 31, 2016, according to a release by the Wisconsin Court System. In his resignation letter, attached to a statement by Gov. Scott Walker, Prosser writes that he has “had the exceptional privilege of working in all three branches of state government” and that “[s]erving on the Wisconsin Supreme Court has been an honor beyond description.” He asked that in choosing his successor, Walker select someone who “will understand that promoting the reputation and integrity of the institution is more important than the promotion of any individual.”