Another Attack on the Judiciary

It's hard to go a day without coming across another story of another frantic attempt by conservative politicians to intrude upon the province of judges. And today's story comes from Colorado, where supporters of an initiative to impose term limits upon the state's judiciary have been allowed to begin to collect signatures to get the measure on the ballot this November No other state requires such limits, the Denver Post's Howard Pankratz is reporting this morning, and there is a really good reason for that: it's a terrible idea.

The catalyst for Colorado's initiative is John Andrews, the former state Senate President, who apparently believe believes that treating judges like politicians will make judges less like politicians. Why is he pitching term limits? "We have seen outrageous instances of judicial lawmaking, not only at the federal level but at the state level-- really an increasing problem for decades now." You read that right. Because Andrews's views don't always prevail in court, he wants to force out those judges who are preventing him from getting his way.

The initiative would be a bad idea even if Colorado's judicial selection and retention system were in disarray. But it isn't. Actually, it's a perfectly reasonable system. State judges are appointed "provisionally" by the governor and then are required to go through an election to be "retained" in office by voters. A legitimate review of each judge is performed, and made available to the public, so that voters know before they go into the booth which judges have been problematic. As a result, "bad" judges often are not retained. Good judges sail through. And the process is about as unpolitical as you can get these days.

That's not good enough for Andrews. He wants the sort of turnover in the judiciary that we have in the other two branches of government. The initiative would force appellate judges out after 12 years of service, whether those judges are wonderful or not and whether they want to leave or not. Andrews tells the Post that he has the votes to get the measure on the ballot and you can bet it'll be one of those political fights that generates nasty attack ad after nasty attack ad this fall. If it passes, the measure also would ultimately generate waves of political jockeying for "open" seats on the state's appellate courts. Bad idea.

The Colorado Bar Association, meanwhile, thinks the initiative will only discourage the smartest lawyers in the state from applying for judge positions. And the state court judges, predictably, aren't crazy about the new plan, either. "Term limits don't do anything but end institutional memory and the experience of judges," former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Jean Dubofsky told the Post.

Another day. Another "solution" to a problem that doesn't exist. Welcome to the intersection of law and politics, where the traffic lights ought to be blinking yellow for caution.

By  |  May 23, 2006; 8:40 AM ET
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Looks like Andrews is also angry about the 8- and 10-year terms (for appellate and Supreme Court respectively), seeking to reduce them all to 4 years.

Does he think fear of political retribution will change their rulings?

Posted by: Steve Boese | May 23, 2006 11:31 AM

It does not appear to me that John Andrews is even a lawyer, or any kind of constitutional law scholar. And yet he is the head of an organization apparently intended to put the "con" back in constitution. "Backbone America is a national citizens alliance that champions the principles of the American founding." Sure it does. That's why making the judiciary less independent, in contravention of all known constitutional principles, is such a good idea. I always wonder if these clowns purporting to implement the Founding Fathers' intentions have ever actually read any of the Founding Fathers' writings (and I don't mean selectively), or have a clue who those men actually were.

Posted by: attorneyofrecord | May 23, 2006 03:54 PM

While I understand the motivation behind term limits--for legislators, not judges--here in Michigan, term limits have done nothing but wreak havok with the legislature. Institutional knowledge is gone, continually finding qualified candidates to run for office is impossible, and "government relations" people write the laws.

Term limits are a bad idea in general, and a horrible idea for the judiciary.

Posted by: Michigan Lawyer | May 24, 2006 10:13 AM

Term Limits are not a bad idea (we tried to limit the terms of Judges here in Nevada in 1994/1996), but due to the interference of the Supreme Court here the ballot question which would have done the trick was separated into a pair of questions (in violation of our constitution), and as a result, the question which would have term limited judges failed (had it not been for this, we would have had term limits for judges back in the mid 90's).

Term Limits are NOT a bad idea, but rather a way to get rid of entrenched politicians who are elected to often push their own mis-guided agendas (do you have any idea how hard it is to defeat a incumbent, unless they have screwed up so badly through malfeasance in office, that it is a no-brainer to throw them out)?

Term Limits are a excellent way to encourage new persons to run for office

Posted by: Bill Parker | May 29, 2006 11:20 AM

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