Could the "judges-by-district" measure backfire?

Over at Ridenbaugh Press, Randy Stapilus takes note of the recently-qualified "judges-by-district" measure - and wonders if it could have the opposite effect that its sponsors desire:

The initiative’s idea is this: The members of Oregon’s Supreme Court, which has seven justices, and Court of Appeals, which has 10, would be elected from districts around Oregon, rather than at large. ...

The up-side to the initiative, from the rural interest viewpoint, is that they’d be guaranteed a presence on the court. The downside is the limitation of that presence. On even the 10-member Court of Appeals, all of Oregon east of the Cascades would get just about . . . one seat. And that’s as much as they’d ever be able to get; under the present plan, you could in theory elect judge after judge from the big wide open. They’d get less than that on the Supreme Court. Meantime, under the new plan, the Portland metro area’s domination of the courts would be locked in.

Read the rest. Discuss.

Comments

  • Sponge (unverified)
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    These kinds of "remedies" for trying to mitigate urban influences never work the way their supporters intend, unless the population distribution is geographically proportionate; which it is not.

  • Jim Daniels (unverified)
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    I have never understood the oppostion to this measure. Seems fair enough to me. So a few judges have differing view, big deal. A little checks and balances couldn't hurt. In addition, if you have a Republican governor there are always some moderate judges from Portland, and vise versa.

    After the discussion above, I will likely vote for this -- unless someone can convince me different. I will be reading others' comments.

  • Eric (unverified)
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    Another cruddy initiative, another reason why we have to vote NO on everything in November.

  • Jesse O (unverified)
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    The concept is that judges would represent their districts. But judges are supposed to represent the law, not some sort of interest.

    We should ensure the best qualified folks get those slots, not have some sort of quota system for less qualified people.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Jim, it might be a good idea. But I decided long ago that I will reserve the right to vote no on any measure where I distrust the init. sponsors. Too many people run ballot measures for a living or act as if the Elections Div. exists just to put their measures on the ballot. I figure if an idea is good enough, someone else will find a way to pass a bill in the legislature or put an idea on the ballot.

    And all measure sponsors should beware of unintended consequences. Seems there have been many measures over the last decade or more which were implemented or ruled on by courts and the sponsors screamed, THAT IS NOT WHAT WE MEANT! Tough luck!

    Over the last several years (esp. since 2000) my default position has been to vote no unless the campaign and the wording of the measure convince me to vote yes. So far it looks like only 2 measures have my support.

    Regardless of what ballot measure people may believe, we as voters do have the right to hold NO as our default position unless we are persuaded to vote yes. The Constitution still begins "We the people..." not "they the ballot measure sponsors..".

  • Eric (unverified)
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    None of the measures get my support. Since 2002, I have voted No on everything, and I will do so again. I encouage everyone to do the same.

    Vote NO on everything in November.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    That's a very thoughtful position, Eric.

  • Sponge (unverified)
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    Voting 'no' on everything - just because - isn't a very thoughtful approach. I am strongly in favor of M39, regarding eminent domain, and I would appreciate someone explaining to me why it's a bad idea.

  • Eric (unverified)
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    There is a good chance (and I will bet you 20$ on it)that M39 will be kicked into the courts because someone is "getting harmed" by it being enacted. It will go to the courts never to be seen again. It is best just to vote NO on it just to avoid the agony and aggravation of the court system.

  • Jim Daniels (unverified)
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    It is the broadness of judges' differing views that I like. I don't see that an Eastern Oregon judge as representing an "interest" -- rather a different life experience. That life experience will be different then mine, I don't really mind that.

    The above discussions appear a bit sophomoric, vote no on everything, vote no on because of the sponsors.

    People get frustrated when they feel left out of the process. This measure might make people on the other side of the mountain feel more like “One Oregon.” So there are a couple judges that view the law different than I do, so what?

  • Sponge (unverified)
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    "It is best just to vote NO on it just to avoid the agony and aggravation of the court system."

    Bad call, Eric.

  • Eric (unverified)
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    Thank you, Sponge. I enjoy your candor and misleading sarcasm :)

  • JB (unverified)
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    The initiative system in Oregon is broken. Look what it produced in 2006. A load of crap! The most progressive thing Oregon can do is end this direct democracy madness. Vote NO on everything in '06.

  • Pedro (unverified)
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    I have a few questions: 1. Who draws the districts? 2. What becomes of the current justices? Do they complete their current terms?

    And a few comments: 1. District elections are much easier and cheaper to run in than a state wide race. 2. The elephants are looking for any way they can to change the make up of the courts and select non-activist judges. By dividing and conquering the state wide judiciary, they will be able to pick off an extra seat or two simply by spending a ton of money in selected districts. 3. I will be voting YES on David Delk's two initiatives, measures 46 and 47 limiting campaing financing and spending. YES on measure 44, presciption drugs. I haven't figured out measure 42 yet, it may be a wolf in sheeps clothing.

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    "The above discussions appear a bit sophomoric, vote no on everything, vote no on because of the sponsors."

    That may be a fair criticism of some of the "vote no on everything" arguments but looking at who is sponsoring an initiative is anything but sophomoric. It's one of the better indicators of the intent of an initiative that we have available as voters.

  • Karl Smiley (unverified)
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    Here in the philomath school district, we recently lost our regional representation and went to "at large". It was a very disenfranchising and frustrating feeling to lose our community rep, some one who would speak to our interests, and knew and understood them- some one who knew that I expected them to represent me and my neighbors. I don't see how a mix of viewpoints in a discussion can be a bad thing.

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    Randy's right about the math, but I'm not sure it would backfire in rural areas. A seven-seat Supreme Court would mean that Oregon east of the Cascades would have just about enough (not quite, but mostly) for one seat. I think most folks out here will figure that one is better than none.

    As for me, I worry about this. The smaller the district, the better chance someone's going to be elected who has no business being on a bench. I also think this measure would result in our judicial elections being even more political than they are now, because an interest group would find a district race easier to fund.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)
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    Why are folks dumb enough to believe that making judges politicians is a good idea?

    And making them be parochial politicans even better?

    (parochial adj: Narrowly restricted in scope or outlook; provincial: parochial attitudes.)

    We get our chance to prove how poorly we can make electoral choices when we choose legislators and governors. And in this state we frequently do a truly outstanding job of that.

    Judges have a different role and a don't want someone on the bench who gets there because he or she appeals most successfully best to the lowest common denominator in their home base, regardless of whether it is eastern, western, rural, or urban Oregon.

    Frankly, I want someone with better critical thinking skills than most anyone who posts on this blog, and certainly than 99% of the fools whose character suits them to running for elected office, particularly if the three clowns that apparently represent the best we have to offer for the highest law enforcement office in the state (that would be Governor, for the majority of folks that seemed to have skipped civics class.)

  • Robert Harris (unverified)
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    Some thoughts.

    First, I think that every "district" will have sufficient legal talent to make sure that we have at least as capable of Court as we have now.

    But I'm not convinced by the argument that it will provide for different life experiences on the bench. You could use that same argument to support requiring a certain number of women, minorities, or whatever.

    I think its a positive thing for people outside the Willamette valley to feel like they have a little more say in who our judges may be.

    Finally I have a suspicion that some of the lawyers most against this measure are from the PDX and Salem areas who correctly see this requirement decreasing the number of seats for Portland area, big law firm appellate lawyres and for government lawyers. They won't say it, but their belief is that most of the really top lawyers live or work in Portland (or Salem for government lawyers)and that this measure will hurt the capability of the courts. I don't buy that. I think there are attorneys who chose to live in K-Falls or LaGrande who are just as smart and talented as attorneys in Portland. (Besides most of the time the people who run for judge are telaented, but aren't necessarily the most talented in their field anyway)

    This one is a close call, but I think on the whole, this measure will not hurt the courts as far as judicial abilities and there is value in having a geographic representation on the court because when a controversial ruling is handed down, the folks in Burns can't say the whole court is run by a bunch or Portland Liberal Judges.

  • Chuck Paugh (unverified)
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    Whenever judges become part of the political / election process, you limit your ability to receive a fair and balanced trial. This is true no matter what side of the aisle you sit, your gender, your race, etc. All judicial decisions become a political rather than a legal opinion. I am highly opposed to this "judges-by-district" idea.

  • Jim Daniels (unverified)
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    Chuck:

    All circuit court judges in Oregon are already by districts. They are all elected locally, and yet we see very few contests or political battles. In May there was one contest in Republican Marion County and the Republican didn't win.

    Others:

    I think everyone who is against this measure is way overreacting. If the measure makes people in Baker City fell like they have a voice, then great. It won’t change the courts in Oregon.

    I think the post above is correct. The real opposition comes from Portland attorneys who see fewer seats for the downtown law firms. This is a measure where Portland progressives can show some open-mindedness and say: “great, we are with you rural Oregon.”

  • askquestions1st (unverified)
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    Jim Daniels -

    You seem like a pretty reasonable commentator, and I don't take issue with the general thrust of your last comment.

    However, I would note that to me the specific comment All circuit court judges in Oregon are already by districts actually is not a very good argument in support of this measure. I don't find the judges who sit on our courts to be at all impressive, or even necessarily adequately skilled at their job, and the root cause is that they already are politicians.

    In addition, precisely because we elect judges, the administrative processes available for removing judge who is manifestly incompetent at performing the job of judging are very limited. When judges are nominated and then actually seated on the bench after passing some kind of examination/confirmation proceeding there are remedies (not typically used) for removing judges who prove to be incompetent.

    The reason for this situation is simply the idea that because the voters pick the judges, by definition the people they pick are "qualified", and therefore it is up to the voters to remove them. That in itself should be an embarrassing state of affairs to anyone who cares about doing a good job at self-governance in a representative democracy. It is supposed to be the judges who competently referee the game to make sure everybody is treated equitably and properly so that people have some adequate degree of faith the game is worthwhile to them.

  • Patrick Allen (unverified)
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    Well, "vote no on everything" may be simplistic. I prefer to think of it as "burden of proof." Thus, I intend to vote no on any given measure until and unless its supporters make a convincing case as to why I should vote yes. Most measures fail that test.

    <h2>With respect to electing judges by distict, it's important to note this fits into a national agenda of politicization of appelate courts. Wayne Kinney's point is right on: it's easier to politicize a district race than a statewide one.</h2>
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