University of Denver

Legislators in Two States Look to Alter Judicial Performance Evaluations

Former Manager, Quality Judges Initiative

Socially conservative legislators in Alaska have proposed a bill that would remove the judicial council's authority to make recommendations regarding judges standing for retention. In 1975, Alaska became the first state to establish an official program to evaluate judges standing for retention and make a recommendation to voters, and it is one of seven states that currently have such a program. The proposed legislation is motivated by failed efforts in 2012 to defeat a highly-rated judge who had made unpopular decisions in two abortion-related cases. The bill would also prevent the judicial council from spending state money to influence an election. In Tennessee, legislators have proposed a bill that would allow them to reconstitute the nine-member performance evaluation commission with no judge members. It would also authorize the commission to rewrite existing evaluative criteria and to prevent judges who receive a recommendation “for replacement” from standing for retention.