Tennessee vs. Missouri (Plan)

July 3, 2013

NEW YORK, New York (Wall Street Journal) – Trial lawyers, Democrats and George Soros love the so-called Missouri Plan for choosing judges because it has empowered state bar associations and given state courts a shove to the left. Now proponents have set their sights on Tennessee, even though lawmakers there have rejected the controversial judicial selection method.

In February, the state approved a constitutional amendment to end Tennessee’s use of the Missouri Plan for selecting state judges in favor of using the federal model in which the governor’s nominees would be confirmed by the legislature. That plan must be approved by voters in 2014. At the end of June, lawmakers allowed the Missouri Plan’s judicial nominating commission to expire, consistent with the state’s intention to move to a federal model.

But with a vacancy looming on the state Supreme Court—Justice Janice Holder is retiring in August 2014—Democrats and trial lawyers are claiming the lack of a commission leaves the state without any way to fill her seat. Hence, they’re angling to get the Missouri Plan reinstated on a “temporary” basis.

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Judicial Elections and the Bottom Line

August 19, 2012

NEW YORK, New York — This year, 32 states will be holding contested elections or retention votes for judges on their highest courts. An ideological battle inFlorida, an expensive and partisan one in North Carolina and others are providing uncomfortable lessons about why judges on the highest courts should be appointed rather than elected. Elections turn judges into politicians, and the need to raise money to finance ever more expensive campaigns makes the judiciary more vulnerable to improper influence by donors.

Special interests, like the casino, energy and hospital industries and others, have been heavily involved and sometimes find their ways around disclosure rules and exert their influence through independent expenditures, reducing race after race into a contest of slogans.

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Carrie Severino: Fact-Checking Jeffrey Toobin and the Center for American Progress

August 16, 2012

NEW YORK, New York (The National Review) — Writing for The New Yorker a few days ago, in a piece titled “Judges for Sale,” Jeffrey Toobin complained about the “the grotesque spectacles that pass for judicial elections in states like Ohio, Michigan, Alabama, and (of course) Texas.” Toobin’s piece was inspired by an initiative just launched by the Center for American Progress (CAP). As part of that initiative, CAP published two papers. The first, “The Conservative Takeover of State Judiciaries,” focuses on ballot measures and legislative efforts to weaken or abolish the Missouri Plan. The second, “Big Business Taking over State Supreme Courts,” focuses on money in judicial elections. I guess the papers are supposed to convince readers that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is destroying the universe.

You won’t be surprised that I disagreed with almost everything the various authors had to say. But what might surprise you is that this major public-policy organization has published two papers with an enormous number of glaring factual errors, and that Jeff Toobin would simply regurgitate at least one of them. After noticing the first several factual errors, I decided to take a closer look, for the purpose of fact-checking, and realized that the papers are so full of mistakes that no serious reader could possibly rely on them. I have not had the time to fact-check every sentence, but below are some of the most obvious errors and false claims.

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Jeffrey Toobin: Judges for Sale

August 14, 2012
NEW YORK, New York (The New Yorker) — Campaign-finance discussions tend to focus on a) the Presidential race and b) the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, but the biggest outrage concerning money in politics has little to do with either. It involves elections that rarely receive the attention they deserve: those for judgeships.
Thirty-eight states elect judges to their highest courts. (Fortunately, New York does not, though many lower-court judges in the state stand for election.) State courts decide about ninety-five per cent of the cases in American courts. The federal courts, where the judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, hear only about five per cent, though those appointments get far more attention. Criminal prosecutions, civil lawsuits, child-custody matters, personal injuries—almost all are decided in state courts, under rules established by each state supreme court.

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Website Explains Judicial Selection

July 10, 2012

WASHINGTON, District of Columbia — In recent years, the debate over the best method for choosing judges has captured an increasing amount of attention. In response to the growing interest in this issue, The Federalist Society created to serve as an impartial source of information and educational materials for those interested in this topic, including state legislators, policymakers, opinion leaders, and the public at large.

As the site explains, there are four main methods of judicial selection: judicial elections (22 states), democratic appointment (5 states), the Missouri Plan (13 states), and some hybrid of those methods (10 states).

More and more legislators in state houses across the country are looking at those options and debating whether their own state should amend or change their method of selection. In just the past two years, several state legislatures (including Florida, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee) have considered legislation that would alter their method of selection, while other states (such as Nebraska) have considered measures to evaluate their method of selection.  This spring, legislators in Tennessee received national attention when they voted to pass a constitutional amendment that would change the state’s method from Missouri Plan to democratic appointment.  (Note: the amendment has to be approved by both chambers again in the next two-year General Assembly and then put on the ballot and passed by voters in 2014 in order to take effect.)

The debate has also been followed by experts and policymakers an all sides, and the topic has been editorialized in the Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, and national figures (such as retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor) continue to weigh in.

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