Term Limits for Judges
Thursday, August 10, 2006 :::
Former Colorado Senate leader John Andrews makes a case for imposing a "ten years and out" term limit for certain state judges in the WSJ today. Parts of his argument have a certain appeal:
We don't go back to elected judges, or change the merit selection process. We don't make it easier to remove a miscreant--or even merely unpopular--judge. We may not even shorten the average length of appellate court tenure, which is only about eight years now. All we seek to do is to balance the requirement for rotation in office, so it applies to all three branches of state government from now on. Why should the potential abuse of power or self-serving entrenchment by state senators, representatives, the governor and other elected executives be checked by a term limit, while the activism of the judiciary is not subjected to the same?
This type of argument is as old as the Republic, at least with respect to the federal judiciary. And certainly, the case would be much stronger if judges run for office like their counterparts in the other branches of government.
But that does not mean it is a very good case. Having been on the receiving end of some downright daffy state court rulings, it's easy to understand the frustration some have with so-called "liberal" judges who insist on legislating from the bench rather than ruling on the law.
I suspect, however, that setting a limit on judicial tenure would have opposite effect that Mr. Andrews intends, injecting more politics into a particular judge's rulings than might otherwise exist under the current format.
And if Mr. Andrews is right, and there is a wave of anger directed at state judges, then I suggest the more effective way to deal with it is to get more actively involved in the retention elections. From my own experience, it's not impossible to unseat a judge who has gone off his or her rocker in one of these contests.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 8/10/2006