(h/t Malia Reddick)
Many states conduct periodic performance evaluations of their judges, either for internal education and improvement, or to educate voters in advance of judicial retention elections, or both. No state formally evaluates judicial candidates along the same criteria — a process I have called prospective performance evaluation — but the task is so important that local and state bar associations sometimes undertake it themselves.
The Philadelphia Bar Association recently unveiled their new evaluation process for judicial candidates, and it is impressively thorough — much more than this local news report suggests. The standards set forth by the Philly Bar are carefully done and well worth a review by voters and court observers alike.
Those who are truly concerned about money and politics* might take notice of this past weekend’s fundraiser for Jacob Gold, “the dean of Democratic District Leaders,” in Brooklyn. The fundraiser brought out “a small army of attorneys,” all of whom hoped to wow the party bosses and win one of a handful endorsements for the bench in the coming election.
I have previously noted the rather nauseating control that party bosses maintain over the selection of New York’s trial judges. Events like this offer little solace for the prospect of an impartial and independent judiciary. New Yorkers deserve much better.
* As opposed to those who simply and mindlessly rant about Citizens United.
David Lat has a circuit-by-circuit breakdown of possible nominees for the federal courts of appeals. Must read stuff, as always.
That escalated quickly.
In light of the North Carolina legislature’s proposal to reduce the size of the state court of appeals from 15 to 12, Judge Douglas McCollough resigned from the court yesterday. Judge McCullough was due to leave the court next month under the state’s mandatory retirement laws (he is nearing age 72), but chose to leave early so that Governor Roy Cooper could fill his position immediately.
Judge McCollough stated that he resigned now — before the legislation could be passed — to increase the likelihood that the court would maintain its current 15 member composition. “I didn’t want my legacy to be the elimination of the seat,” he said. But his decision to leave early, which emphasized the institutional health of the court, was still shrouded in political intrigue. Continue reading “North Carolina court struggle heats up”
We previously reported that Indiana legislators are considering a merit selection plan for the judges of Marion County (the Indianapolis area), in light of a Seventh Circuit decision holding the previous election slating process unconstitutional. Recently, both state legislators and the Indianapolis Bar Association have offered their own opinions of the proposed legislation.
The Hill reports on Senator Charles Grassley’s statements to a local Iowa newspaper. It is unclear whether there is anything more than conjecture to this prediction, but it does seem reasonably likely that there will be at least one more vacancy before January 20, 2021. The real question is whether there will be a vacancy before the midterm elections next year, since a change in the composition of the Senate could impact both nomination and confirmation strategies.
David Lat has a typically insightful post at Above the Law, looking at the potential nominees for openings in the federal district courts and federal circuit courts. One of the more striking parts of his analysis is the relative youth of many of the names being kicked around — most are in their 30s or 40s. This makes sense from the President’s perspective; younger judges allow him to shape the federal bench for decades to come. But it is also a moment of reckoning for those of us in that generation. Continue reading “Gen X prepares to take the bench”
In several states, the two senators collectively create a screening committee to recommend names of local attorneys and state judges to the President for a federal judicial appointment. The committees are not mandatory, and have been used somewhat haphazardly over time, but they do allow senators to provide useful information to the President about qualified individuals for the federal bench. The committees also help lock the senators in when home-state openings arise: by pre-screening a list of possible candidates, the senators are essentially telling the President that they will support any nominee who comes from that list. Such advance agreement avoids the embarrassment that Senator Michael Bennett must have felt earlier this month when, for purely partisan reasons, he had to vote against an extremely well-qualified fellow Coloradan, Neil Gorsuch, for the Supreme Court. Continue reading “Washington’s senators ask President to honor work of their judicial screening committee”
According to this story, a special counsel for Mayor Bill de Blasio has noted the difficulty of finding qualified applicants to fill interim posts on the New York City Civil Court. It’s not hard to see why. Candidates are guaranteed only one year on the bench, after which they must stand for election to keep their positions. But in New York’s byzantine judicial election system, which is largely run by party bosses and was once flatly characterized by Justice Stevens as “stupid,” excellent service on the bench for a year is no guarantee of future employment.
Consider the problem from the perspective of potential applicants. To move to the bench, those in private practice would have to give up their clients, essentially depleting years or decades of work in developing a book of business. It would be professionally negligent, if not career suicide, to allow all your clients to move on in return for a one-year gig on the bench. Potential applicants in the District Attorney’s office or Public Defender’s office might be able to extract themselves a bit more easily, but face similar risks in moving themselves back and forth from the bench. As a result, the pool of potential applicants is likely to contain near-retirees or lawyers without much business than it is high-quality attorneys in their prime.
New York, like other states, could resolve the problem by moving away from judicial elections altogether. Appointed judges would have more confidence in their ability to stay on the bench for a while, given good behavior.