Fair Courts E-lert: Pres. Obama's Nominee Thoughts; NC Retention Elections Struck Down

February 26, 2016

THE SUPREME COURT

President Obama Outlines Thoughts on Prospective SCOTUS Nominee

Following the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Feb. 13, President Barack Obama penned a brief article, posted on SCOTUSblog, outlining his thoughts on what he will look for in a nominee to fill the vacancy. President Obama began by highlighting that the appointee needs to be “eminently qualified,” with an “independent mind, rigorous intellect, impeccable credentials, and a record of excellence and integrity.” Additionally, he said, the nominee must also be “someone who recognizes the limits of the judiciary’s role; who understands that a judge’s job is to interpret the law, not make the law.” Finally, President Obama said he recognizes that “[t]here will be cases in which a judge’s analysis necessarily will be shaped by his or her own perspective, ethics, and judgment.” Therefore, the nominee should have “experience that suggests he or she views the law not only as an intellectual exercise, but also grasps the way it affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times.”

STATE JUDICIAL SELECTION

NC Supreme Court Retention Elections Found Unconstitutional

A 2015 law changing how justices of the North Carolina Supreme Court are re-selected––moving from contested elections to retention elections––was ruled unconstitutional by a three-judge panel of Superior Court judges last week. “The law gives most sitting justices the option to be re-elected to additional eight-year terms without head-to-head matchups with challengers,” writes Gary D. Robertson for the Associated Press. “Instead, the justice can choose to be elected in an up-or-down vote. It’s supposed to be used by Associate Justice Bob Edmunds for the first time this November.” Robertson reports that last Thursday the attorneys in the case were informed of the decision, “which bars state election officials from conducting a retention vote,” but that the written and signed order is not yet available. The lawsuit challenging the legislation argues that retention “is flawed” because it “runs counter to the state Constitution’s mandate that justices must be elected.”

JUDICIAL DIVERSITY

Country’s First Openly LGBT Chief Justice Confirmed

On Monday, the Puerto Rico Senate confirmed Associate Justice Maite Oronoz Rodríguez as the Puerto Rico Supreme Court’s new chief justice. In doing so she becomes the “first openly LGBT chief justice in the United States,” reports the Associated Press. In a Latin Post article by Rachel Cruz, Gov. Alejandro García Padilla is quoted as saying the “judicial branch is in the hands of a first rate jurist, who is part of our country’s new generation of leaders.” Padilla nominated Oronoz Rodríguez, 39, for the chief justice position earlier this month. According to the Associated Press, the new chief justice “served as the commonwealth’s deputy solicitor general and chief legal counselor for the city of San Juan” before she was appointed to the high court in 2014. A statement from Lambda Legal, a group advocating for the rights of LGBT people and those with HIV, lauded the confirmation as “a momentous step towards achieving a judiciary that reflects full and rich diversity.”

Indiana Judicial Selection Bill Draws Diversity Criticism

Legislation to adopt a “merit-selection” system for choosing Marion County Superior Court judges drew criticism on Monday from members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, who said it would “result in a less-diverse bench.” In the Indianapolis Business Journal, Hayleigh Colombo writes that under the proposed plan, “a judicial nominating commission would interview candidates and the governor would appoint one of three finalists to fill any vacancy on the 36-member Superior Court. Judges would stand for a retention vote at the end of their term.” Rep. Cherrish Pryor (D-Indianapolis) said the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus prefers the partisan election system used in most of Indiana’s 92 counties. “This type of election ensures minorities have an opportunity, like all the other counties, to choose the judges they see fit,” Pryor said. “The current bill . . . encourages disenfranchisement of minority voters and it flies in the face of voting rights.” The county’s previous judicial selection system was declared unconstitutional by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in September.