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.
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