Judicial reform proposals deserve serious consideration

Thursday, May 10, 2012

When talking about current events, it's easy to take our system of government for granted or overlook its strongest points altogether.

It's easy for the coffee shop and radio call-in crowd to forget the unique position the judiciary holds -- or should hold -- in the balance of power as the final authority in interpretation of laws.

Especially when 5-4 Supreme Court decisions -- ranging from Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion, to Bush v. Gore which decided the 2000 election -- too many of us think of judges as just another arm of the political machine.

That misconception can extend all the way down to the local level, especially in the 22 states where judges are elected, a process abandoned by Nebraska in 1962.

That year, we voted in a constitutional amendment utilizing the Missouri plan, which nominating commissions screen judicial applicants and forward at least two names to the governor, who makes the final selection. Half of the commission members are chosen by the Nebraska State Bar Association, and half by the governor.

Like any compromise, neither side was entirely satisfied, including the side which sought to remove politics entirely from the equation.

"The problem is not that we're not getting good judges,"Grasz told the Omaha World Herald. "The problem is we're eliminating a lot of good candidates."

To help rectify that situation, Grasz proposes:

* Hold bar association members to the same rules and safeguards used for general elections when voting for members of the judicial nominating commission.

* Require commission members to disclose past and present connections to political parties, candidates and public officials, as well as special interest groups and judge candidates.

* Eliminate questions that favor trial lawyers over other types of lawyers.

Grasz said he saw the governor's role as a counterbalance to the bar association's influence, and didn't propose to see that changed.

State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, said he would be open to looking at Grasz's suggestions, and they should be considered.

Details such as these might be just what it takes to preserve the judiciary's role as a strong, yet responsive, moderating influence on the other two branches of government.

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