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Proposed Bill Threatens the Independence of Utah's Judiciary

31 December 2009 Published in Legislative Work

Proposed Bill Threatens the Independence of Utah's Judiciary

Utah Senator Scott Jenkins has introduced, SB 108, "Judicial Nominating Commission Staff Amendments," which would give the governor unprecedented access to, and power over, the judicial nomination process, seriously eroding the independence and non-political nature of the judicial nominating commissions. This bill threatens the separation of powers envisioned by the framers of the Utah Constition. It violates the integrity and independence of the courts, and is wholly unnecessary.

How does this bill improperly interject politics into the judiciary?

SB 108 would allow the governor to appoint a member of his or her own staff to serve as "staff" to the commission that nominates the Supreme Court Chief Justice. This would allow the governor an inappropriate "insider" view of the nominations process, which is intended to be non-public, precisely so it can be free from political interference.

With the governor's staff person privy to the inner workings of the nominating process, the governor would know, for example, if one of his favorite candidates was not faring well. This governor could then improperly influence the process to improve the chances of his preferred candidate.

Could this change potentially lead to less qualified judicial nominees?

SB 108 would also increase the number of nominees sent from the cominating commissions to the governor. Currently, the nominee lists must include at least three candidates, but no more than five candidates. SB 108 would increase those numbers to seven (for appellate nominees) and five (for trial court nominees). Expanding the governor's choices to five or seven candidates could result in two additional candidates being eligible for appointment. We should be seeking to improve the quality of our judges, rather than broadening the pool to include less qualified candidates.

Is this bill even necessary? Isn't there already an established process for selections?

A judicial council currently enacts the rules that must be followed by nominating commissions when considering potential judicial nominees. Senator Jenkins' bill would transer this rule-making authority from the judicial council to the executive branch. The governor would enact rules that dictate the selection process, and would only have to "consult with" the judicial council when doing so. There is no reason for this authority to be transferred from the judicial council to the governor.

Follow this bill! Track SB 108 at the State Legislature: http://le.utah.gov/asp/billtrack/track.asp
Take Action! Find your state legislator (http://le.utah.gov/GIS/findDistrict.jsp) and email them TODAY!