Four Judicial Reform Bills Under Consideration This Session

Recently, we wrote about how Speaker Shannon wanted to make Judicial reform a top priority in the coming session. Thanks to some help from members of both the House and Senate, nearly every one of his proposals has been put on the table.

Let’s start with the constitutional amendments. Senator Shortey introduced SJR30 in the previous session and it has carried forward to the current session. This proposal, if accepted by the vote of the people, would limit judges to 12 years on the bench. After serving the equivalent of two terms, they will be required to resign. This amendment is not needed as the Constitution already provides means, though the retention ballot, for citizens to remove judges they feel are not performing their duties.

From the House, Representative Osborn has introduced HJR1094. This constitutional amendment, if accepted by a vote of the people, would require judges to get a vote of more than 60% to retain their seat rather than the current 50%. Considering that no retained judges have received less than 60% of the yes vote since 2004, this might not have any real impact in elections.

The next two bills change what information voters will have when considering judicial retentions.

Senator Crain introduced SB1646 which adds a host of information to the Judicial Retention ballot. Under this bill it will be required to list the following under the Judge’s name on the ballot:

The name and age of the Justice or Judge, the number of years the Justice or Judge has served in the office sought and the name of the Governor who originally appointed the Justice or Judge to such office;

We really don’t see any reason why any on that additional information is relevant to the retention ballot. All that information is freely available to voters who wish to seek it out. What this will do is bias the votes against older judges appointed under Governors they did not support.

The final bill, SB1748,  is introduced by Senator Sykes. This bill if passed would change our current non-partisan district judge elections to partisan elections. It does not appear to create partisan elections for the State Supreme Court or the Court of Criminal Appeals. However, this change would do nothing but politicize something that should not be made political.

Overall, none of this legislation improves the political landscape for judges. Of the four, only HJR1094 would be a net-neutral with the three others having a potential negative impact on the judicial system.

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