This news story about the nomination process for Colorado's most recent Supreme Court justice explains quite a bit about Colorado's judicial nominating system.
"A juror from Grand Junction and Gabriel did the same thing -- they didn't tell the truth in court. What did the juror get? A hefty fine and jail time. What did Gabriel get? A seat on the Supreme Court."
-- Chris Forsyth, Executive Director of The Judicial Integrity Project.
After this story aired, Governor Hickenlooper appointed Melissa Hart, the candidate in the video with the most politically partisan viewpoint, to sit with Gabriel on Colorado's Supreme Court.
We're still researching and analyzing all the issues with these commissions along with the requirements for a candidate to apply to these commissions.
Please be patient. There's a lot to research on this issue. Check back with us in the future. This page is under construction. We will add content as our research and analysis continues.
Colorado has judicial nominating commissions in each judicial district plus an additional commission to nominate appellate court judges (Court of Appeals and Supreme Court). The governor, who ultimately appoints all state court judges who are nominated by the commissions, has a hand in selecting every single one of the members of the commissions. The commissions are allowed to have more Republicans than Democrats or vice versa. And everything the commissions do, by rule, is confidential except for the names they ultimately nominate.
Yet this dark, imbalanced system is often labeled "merit selection." There is no merit to a process that selects public servants without mandatory public comment and in complete darkness.
The way the process works is that individuals who want to be judges submit an application to an appropriate commission. The names of the members of the commissions are public so those who want to be a judge can work to obtain good standing with those individuals. The commissions interview some of the candidates and select the names of 3 nominees to give to the governor from whom he or she appoints a judge to the bench.
And of course, because the governor has a hand in selecting every member of the commission, the governor can certainly influence commissioners to give him the names of certain candidates. So, a governor of a certain political party can ensure that an extremist from his or her political party gets appointed to the highest court in our state. How does such a process have merit?
Why aren't their public hearings where the public can comment on nominees? After all, in 2017, a nominee for a federal judge position removed his name from consideration after being widely criticized for his lack of experience. That criticism only happened because federal judge appointees must have senate confirmation and the Senate holds hearings regarding the candidates. In Colorado, not only does the Senate not have to confirm a judicial candidate, there are no public hearings regarding judicial candidates.
Why are the commissions politically imbalanced? In Colorado, there are more unaffiliated voters than there are either Republicans or Democrats. Yet the commissions are made up primarily of Democrats and Republicans with one party most often having more members on the commissions than the other. The result is often getting a Democrat or Republican nominated to the bench based on the makeup of the commission. So we're repeatedly and systematically putting extremists on the bench.
If a judge is politically active and beholden to a cause, that judge is most certainly more likely to be biased on the bench. Think about it. Those are the judges that this incredibly political process is putting on the bench.We want judges who will fairly apply the law and behave ethically. We don't want judges who are tempted to break the rules to reach the result they want.
We need a system that uses the criteria of truth and ethics first. Individuals who can successfully navigate a very political nominating process aren't necessarily people who hold truth and ethics in the highest regard. And therein lies the greatest fault with Colorado's judicial nominating commissions. The commissions aren't nominating people out of the blue. The commissions are selecting job candidates from a group of resumes those individuals submitted.
To think that Colorado's nominating system removed politics from the judicial process is an incredibly foolish notion. We do not encourage a return to contested elections in Colorado. Yet dark forces in Colorado who fight against improving Colorado's current process force frustrated voters to think that contested elections would be a much better process.
By focusing on the tenets of The Judicial Integrity Project -- removing conflicts of interest, increasing transparency and enhancing accountability -- we can improve the judicial nominating process. Judges are public servants. The public should be able to see the process as it proceeds and the public should be free to comment as the process proceeds. The result will be increased public confidence in Colorado's judiciary.