"Merit Selection of Judges"
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 25, 2004
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is worried by Constitutional Amendment A (Merit Selection of Judges) which is on the November 2004 ballot. MADD feels this change would potentially harm the victims of drunk driving and our justice system.
Right now, voters select their judges at the ballot box. Judges are accountable for their actions and they must convince us that they will do the best job of providing South Dakotans with justice. Judges have a lot of discretionary authority in sentencing and Amendment A would take away this check on the system.
By allowing the Governor to appoint judges, we cannot choose from a number of candidates. We can't get to know who they are and what they stand for. Amendment A will end direct election of circuit judges and replace it with an appointment process that will be controlled by the governor and an unelected commission. There will be a retention vote three years after the appointment and then every eight years thereafter. MADD believes the retention vote is a sham because it does not allow the voters to have a say in the appointment. Essentially this means that circuit judges will be granted life terms in office.
In addition creating lifetime tenure, Amendment A could also be abused in the hands of future governors. The Judicial Qualifications Commission and Governor could appoint judges for political reasons rather than the quality of their jurisprudence. The commission will be made up mostly of lawyers, and Amendment A is written in such a way that it prevents the legislature from even having an "advise and consent" vote in the appointment of judges. The result could be that South Dakotans could be stuck with judges for life that do not believe in victims' rights or in taking strong measures to deter drunk drivers. Or worse, we could be stuck with someone who is not a neutral, unbiased adjudicator, but someone who is beholden to the people who appoint him/her; this is the world that Constitutional Amendment A could create.
MADD believes that judges should be accountable to the people. The lack of accountability that would result from Amendment A would be a disaster for all South Dakotans, including victims of drunken driving.
MADD believes that .merit. needs to be determined by the people, not a governor or an unelected commission. We urge South Dakotans to vote "NO" on Amendment A in the November 2, 2004 election.
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