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Legislator wants elected high court jurists

January 16, 2009

One Indiana legislator wants to make changes to the state's highest court, including how the jurists are seated. Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawaka, is sponsoring a House Joint Resolution that would require Indiana Supreme Court justices be elected instead of appointed and retained.

HJR 9, new this year, proposes several changes to the Supreme Court. Other members of the high court would appoint the chief justice instead of the Judicial Nominating Commission. The governor would fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court with a judge from the Indiana Court of Appeals to serve out the remainder of the term. The number of justices would be capped at five as opposed to the current option for up to nine total justices.

Perhaps the biggest change suggested in the legislation is that the justices would be elected by the general public to a 6-year term. The General Assembly would divide Indiana into three districts, and one justice would be elected by the voters of those districts. Two justices would be elected by all voters statewide

The legislation comes at a time when several bar associations have spoken out in support for the continuance and expansion of merit-based selection of judges on the appellate and trial levels. In a Q&A with Indiana Lawyer in 2008, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justices Theodore Boehm and Brent Dickson spoke in favor of the current merit selection and retention system in Indiana, saying it attracts quality candidates and prevents the political fights common in other states.

Rep. Fry also has proposed House Bill 1491 which would require St. Joseph Superior Court judges to be elected as opposed to the current merit-based selection and retention system in place there.

HJR 9 was referred to the Committee on Courts and Criminal Code this week. The proposed amendment has to be voted up in two consecutive legislative sessions, and then ratified by a majority of the state's voters before it would become law.

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