Stateside With Rosalea - Here come da judges
On October 17, President George W. Bush gave an address via satellite to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which was meeting in New Smyrna, Florida to honour Hispanic businesswomen. After congratulating the women on their achievements he got straight to the heart of the matter, which was to have the audience bring pressure to bear on their local senators - always a fun thing to do in election year:
"Right now the Senate Judiciary Committee is now considering a friend of mine, a guy named Mike -- Miguel Estrada. He's my nominee for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. If confirmed, he'll be the first Hispanic ever to serve on this important court. No one can deny that he's well-qualified. No one can deny he's a great lawyer and that he's highly skilled. Yet, unfortunately, there are senators who play politics with Miguel Estrada's nomination. There are senators searching for any reason to defeat him. I call upon the Senate leadership to treat Miguel Estrada with dignity and respect, and to bring his nomination up for the full Senate to confirm him before they adjourn."
The judicial branch of government in the United States and in the individual states is such a mystery to me that when I saw a large sign in upstate New York a couple of weeks ago saying 'Lust Supreme Court' I thought it was an ad for a new TV programme. It wasn't until later in the day when Judge Marc Lust handed me a leaflet as I walked along a small-town street that I realised it was a campaign ad.
On the ballot this November for everyone in California are three Supreme Court judges, and within each district, or division in the district, numerous judges for the six district courts of appeal. According to SmartVoter it works like this: "Each division has one Presiding Justice and two or more associate justices, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. The appointments are confirmed by the public at the next general election; justices also come before voters at the end of their 12-year terms. Vote "Yes" to confirm each of the following justices; vote "No" to oppose confirmation."
The Chief Justice and six associate justices of the Supreme Court are appointed/confirmed/elected in the same way. A recent article in the 'San Francisco Chronicle' gives you some idea of how these races are seen: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/10/19/BA208240.DTL If the appointments aren't controversial, then I guess voters' approval is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Nonetheless, judicial appointments are made and approved by party political entities, which is why you see statements like this one by Judge Kolkey from the Third District Court of Appeal, that among his priorities is one "To exercise judicial restraint and respect for our other branches of government and the parties."
California's judicial system is one of the largest in the world. It has over 400 court locations, 7 Supreme Court judges, 93 appellate court judges, and 1,480 trial court judges, as well as 363 commissioners and referees. Among the functions of the courts are two that reflect the republican style of government here in the US: the preservation of the distinction between the branches of government, as provided by California's constitution, and the protection of the rights of individuals from encroachment by state or local government.
And yes, local governments have their own judicial branches as well - in Alameda County, for example, there is an election for a Superior Court Judge, Office 5, in which you vote for one only of two candidates. The two women faced off at a Meet the Candidate forum on Friday night in Oakland, a meeting that was broadcast live on the city's local cable channel. You can read the candidate statements at http://www.smartvoter.org/2002/11/05/ca/alm/race/133/
There is one last item on the 2002 ballot that is to do with California's legal system. It is a legislative constitutional amendment, Proposition 48, which is asking to delete all references to municipal courts from the California Constitution. Prior to June 1998, the Constitution provided that each county would have one superior court and at least one municipal court, the latter dealing with most civil cases in which the amount involved was less than $25,000, and with criminal cases involving misdemeanours such as traffic violations. Small claims courts were part of the municipal court system.
As the result of the passage of Proposition 220 by California voters in 1998, superior court judges have since unified municipal courts with superior courts, supposedly saving taxpayers millions of dollars. However, there are those who say that "the elimination of municipal courts in favor of a single "superior court" in each county has created at least the appearance of unfairness and has made local courts more insular and less accountable." You can read the arguments for and against this proposition at http://www.smartvoter.org/2002/11/05/ca/state/prop/48/
As we get closer to the election we are beginning to see more coverage of the candidates, races, and issues. Yesterday afternoon, before the big baseball game between The Fog and The Smog (the SF Giants and LA's Anaheim Angels), the local Fox channel aired a number of congressional candidate statements, giving free air time to any candidate who wanted to use it, and I see it has another couple of half-hour slots scheduled this afternoon (Sunday).
The Free Airtime Project, which is a public service of The California Channel and the California cable industry, has streaming video of all the state office candidates at http://www.freeairtimeproject.org/ if you have Real Player and want to put a face and voice to any of the candidates I've been telling you about.
The President's speech to USHCC is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/10/20021017-3.html