A non-partisan task force assembled nearly a year and a half ago by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly has come up with a list of recommendations to make the judicial selection process less expensive and more transparent.
The task force’s recommendations were released yesterday.
Among the reforms on the list of recommendations is a constitutional amendment to require gubernatorial appointment of state Supreme Court justices using either the federal executive appointment model, or Arizona’s selection commission model.
Kelly said that was one of the stickier issues, and one that did not garner consensus of the entire task force.
“The majority of the task force did support it,” she said. “But the majority and the minority felt it was important to not make it one of the consensus recommendations.”
So what does that mean? It means there are other issues the task force would like to focus on.
Also on the list of recommendations (which did have consensus agreement) :
- Public disclosure of all judicial campaign spending
- The implementation of an open primary system, rather than a partisan nomination system
- Requiring the Secretary of State to produce a voter education guide with information about judicial candidates
- A Supreme Court campaign oversight committee, which would check the factual claims in political advertisements and denounce those that are false and misleading.
- The implementation of a screening commission to help the governor fill judicial vacancies.
- The elimination of the age-70 ceiling on judicial candidates
A minority of task force members also felt that public financing of judicial races should be recommended, but in the end, that idea failed to get support.
The reason, ironically, is that since Citizens United, there has been so much money from third parties flowing into political advertising. Candidate committees already only spend a small fraction of the total amount spent on political advertising.
Kelly said that many on the task force felt that the committees need to be able to at least try to get candidate-approved (and hopefully truthful and respectable) advertisements out to the public to combat all the secret third-party, mostly negative and often untrue, messages.
Some of the items on the list of recommendations could be implemented quickly and easily, without a constitutional amendment or even legislative action.
The Secretary of State voter education guides is one of those.
“I feel strongly about the need to get the public informed,” Kelly said. “A full third of voters skip the judges altogether. We can’t presume they don’t care. If they don’t know the candidates, can you blame them for not voting for them? …
“The public is entitled to know things like if a judge is on the bench on time, or if he or she is harsh on the people in their courtrooms.”
Another recommendation that would be easily implemented is the commission to screen candidates for appointment to fill vacant supreme court vacancies.
“That would protect the governor from pressure from cronies,” she said. “And it would be possible for the public to know what’s going on.
As to whether or not any of the recommendations will get any traction, Kelly said, “We’re not Pollyannas here. If the system was going to correct itself it would have.”
But she’s hopeful because the one thing that the task force agreed on unanimously is that the judicial selection system is flawed.
“We may have disagreed on what those flaws are, but we all agreed the system has its flaws,” Kelly said