(Nancy Dallas) – Senator Bill Raggio (R) and Assemblyman Morse Arberry (D) in 2006 submitted a joint request for a legislative bill to amend the Nevada Constitution and allow for the appointment of judges via the implementation of the “Missouri Plan”. (C-177)
This bill has now been approved twice by the Nevada State legislature – in 2007 and 2009. The question now appears on your 2010 General Election ballot.
Under the Missouri Plan, when there is a judicial vacancy, a non-partisan judicial selection commission solicits applications, conducts interviews, and recommends three persons to the governor. After interviewing the candidates, the governor selects one of the three to fill the seat.
After one or more years on the bench, judges must then run, unopposed, at the next general election for retention in office based on their record. If a majority of voters disapproves of a judge, the judge must leave the bench and a new judge must be appointed to the vacancy according to the same rules.
Under current Nevada law, judicial candidates vie for open positions as “non-partisan” candidates and are publicly elected by the voters.
If a vacancy occurs prior to the completion of a term (due to death, illness, resignation, etc), similar to the Missouri Plan, a “judicial selection committee” solicits applications, conducts interviews and recommends three persons to the Governor, who then makes the appointment.
It has proven to be a less than ideal process, marred by excessive political pressures and influence; however, in Nevada there is one major difference from the Missouri Plan replacement process.
In the Missouri Plan, if the appointee loses the “approval” election, a replacement is appointed – using the same selection process. In Nevada, the incumbent must run in the General Election and possibly face opposing candidates to be elected – or, replaced by a candidate of the voters’ choice.
I don’t care how you cut it, any “judicial selection committee” is going to be politically influenced – whether it is bi-partisan, legislatively anointed, judicially anointed, publicly anointed, or parts of all. And, in the end, the Governor makes the final decision. Regardless of who this is or what party he/she belongs to, this generally ends up being a politically motivated decision.
The process was used to fill a number of judicial vacancies over the past year or two, including the Third Judicial Court vacancy in Lyon/Churchill County in 2006. The long-time incumbent retired 2-1/2 years prior to the end of his six year term.
I might not be so cynical of the Missouri Plan appointment process if I had not witnessed how the system was so abused in this particular case.
Early retirement from elective positions has long been a convenient means of allowing a politically compatible ally to be appointed, allowing them the advantage of running as an incumbent. The Churchill/Lyon County Third Judicial District Court replacement process was a perfect example of how political it can become.
But, thanks to current Nevada law, the voters were heard and the appointee was ousted.
While the appointment system eliminates the campaign donation solicitation process, it also, for all practical purposes, eliminates the opportunity for the public to have a say in who they want to serve on the bench.
The argument that judges running for office are in a difficult position having to ask for campaign contributions from potentially future litigants is a good point, but until our entire election campaign process is legitimately cleaned up and revamped, leave Nevada’s judicial selection process a people’s choice.
Think about it.
(Nancy Dallas is Publisher/Editor of NewsDeskbynancydallas.com)