The Rhode Island court system recently received good news when the state’s House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would allow the Chief Judge of the District Court to appoint an unspecified number of new magistrates. Currently, the District Court is operating with only two magistrates.
But the bill’s advance remains controversial. Other judges in the state are vetted by a nominating commission before being appointed by the governor. And over the past 25 years, many of the magistrates who were appointed outside the political process have had political connections. (Indeed, many are former legislators.) Can Rhode Island balance the resource needs of its court system against political patronage concerns that could erode the courts’ legitimacy?