Jun 26 2012
A column in the Holland Sentinel opines about the state of Michigan courts. Four years ago, Michigan was ranked last in a grading of the nation’s supreme courts conducted by the University of Chicago Law School. Michigan’s ranking was partly a reflection of its lack of judicial independence.
In response to the court’s poor perception, a Michigan Judicial Selection Task Force was created. The bipartisan task force was made up of more than 20 respected residents of the state and set out to identify the problems plaguing Michigan’s judicial system and solutions to address those issues. The group’s report is out now, and the results are striking.
The task force discovered that judicial elections in the state are expensive, secretive, tinged with favoritism, and susceptible to partisan politics. The group ultimately reached two unanimous recommendations: 1. Judicial elections should be open and non-partisan, and 2. All judicial campaign contributions should be publicly reported.
While these recommendations will help improve the election process, some of the task force members felt that further action was needed and favored switching from judicial elections to a Merit Selection system. Changing to a system where a screening commission would vet candidate qualifications for gubernatorial appointments that are subject to the approval of the legislature requires that the Michigan constitution be amended.
The column concludes with disappointment at the fact that the task force’s recommendations haven’t been seriously considered by leaders in the state. Nevertheless, these suggestions have brought the need for reform to the forefront.
Because the Commonwealth also uses partisan judicial elections to choose our judges, Pennsylvania’s judicial system is susceptible to the same troubles that afflict Michigan’s courts. Like Michigan, proponents of judicial selection reform have suggested amending the Pennsylvania constitution to switch to a Merit Selection system. Like Michigan, Pennsylvanians are hopeful that our legislative leaders will “be willing to do something to benefit our entire state.”
Tags: Holland Sentinel, judicial elections, Merit Selection, Michigan, Michigan Judicial Selection Task Force