On Wednesday, the Rhode Island House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to create an unlimited number of new magistrate judges for its state court system. The bill was controversial, in that many of the state’s existing magistrates have been appointed outside of the prescribed process. State judges are supposed to be appointed through the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission, which provides opportunities for vetting and public input. Many magistrates, however, appear to have received their appointments as political favors.
As I noted previously, this is a tough spot for the Rhode Island court system. The additional magistrates will be welcomed to help with the courts’ work, but the court system as a whole could lose legitimacy if the public lacks confidence in the appointment process.