Recently the Nebraska Legislature’s Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs committee introduced LB 644. LB 644 is seeking to abolish the Judicial Resources Commission. The Judicial Resources Commission is made up of four judges appointed by the Supreme Court to represent the courts; six members of the Nebraska State Bar Association appointed by the NBSA’s Executive Council to represent the six Supreme Court judicial districts; and seven public citizens representing the six Supreme Court judicial districts and one at-large public member appointed by the Governor.
When a judicial vacancy occurs in a judicial district due to death, retirement, resignation or removal of a judge, The Judicial Resources Commission, after holding a public hearing, determines whether a new judge should be appointed in that district or if the judge’s position should be moved and filled in another judicial district. The Judicial Resources Commission is responsible for making recommendations whether there should be an increase or decrease in the number of judgeships or whether the current number of judicial districts or judicial district boundaries should be changed.
LB 644 would also change the composition of the Judicial Nominating Commission. Currently the Judicial Nominating Commission is charged with reviewing candidates for judicial vacancies and forwarding qualified candidates for consideration by the Governor. The Commissions are chaired by a Supreme Court Justice. The Governor appoints 4 lay members, not of the same political party, and lawyers elect 4 lawyer-members, not of the same political party.
LB644 would require that the Governor’s appointed lay members be from the Governor’s political party. It would also prohibit a vote by the Judicial Nominating Commission unless every member appointed by the Governor was present. Under LB 644 all meetings, deliberations, and actions taken by a Judicial Nominating Commission would be public record.
We oppose LB 644 because it is of paramount importance the Judicial Nominating Commissions operate independently from other actors in the judicial selection process. It is vital that the judiciary operates as a non-political branch of the government. The primary purpose is to assist appointing authorities in the selection of a qualified, inclusive, and independent judiciary. To do this, the Nominating commission must be an independent body that expresses opinions about judicial candidates based on the commission’s independent findings. If the influence of politics colors its judgment, the commission loses the confidence of the citizenry.