A bill drafted at the direction of Senate leaders and with the help of Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras would eliminate Montana's judicial nominating commission and allow the governor to directly appoint state District Court judges and Supreme Court justices.
For nearly half a century, since 1973, a Judicial Nominating Commission has nominated candidates for judicial vacancies. SB140 would not only do away with the commission but also eliminate "the formal input on the selection of judges by members of the bar and the judiciary who presently serve on that commission," said John Mudd, executive director of the State Bar of Montana, which strongly opposes the move.
We believe it's a bad idea.
The governor already has a thumb on the scale of the process by being able to select a majority four members of the seven-member nominating committee. And the governor makes the final call on appointments.
That's plenty of gubernatorial influence over the judiciary. The system has worked just fine for 48 years. There's no need for this change.
It's a concern when something as important as the selection of judges is taken away from a bipartisan, or more correctly nonpartisan, group and handed to a partisan elected official, no matter the party affiliation of that officeholder.
While the fact that the highest leadership positions in the Legislature are very involved in this effort indicates that it has evidently been a long-held goal by some, we have never heard serious complaints about the work of the commission. The move feels distinctly like a step backward in good government, and has an unfortunately authoritarian air to it.