University of Denver

State Legislatures Take Up Judicial Selection Reform (Updated)

Former Manager, Quality Judges Initiative

As state legislatures around the country kick off their 2013 sessions, lawmakers in at least four states—Kansas, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee—are poised to make changes to the process for selecting their states’ judges. IAALS Online has covered developments in Kansas fairly extensively, including the fact that the senate has approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate the judicial nominating commission and require senate confirmation of appointments to the appellate courts. It is not yet clear whether there is the necessary two-thirds support for passage in the house, and two recent polls question whether a majority of voters would support the move. A similar constitutional amendment has been proposed in Tennessee, the only difference being that the full legislature would be required to confirm appellate judicial appointments. The process for amending the constitution is slightly different in Tennessee, with a measure needing to be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions before being submitted to voters. The proposal passed the first round of approval in the 2012 session. This session, the measure has been approved by the senate judiciary committee and sent to a floor vote. In both states, it is not yet clear what would become of the judicial performance evaluation (JPE) programs that provide essential information to voters for retention elections—elections that would remain in effect under the new systems.

At the same time, legislators in Minnesota and Pennsylvania are considering adopting the system that some in Kansas and Tennessee want to discontinue—gubernatorial appointment of judges from recommendations by a judicial nominating commission, with retention elections and JPE. Staff of the IAALS Quality Judges Initiative are consulting with and providing resources to groups in both states regarding the development and implementation of a strong and effective JPE program.