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State of Louisiana

History of Reform Efforts: Louisiana

Unsuccessful Reform Efforts

Louisiana was one of the first states, if not the first, to consider appointing judges through a merit process. At the 1921 constitutional convention, a plan was proposed providing for the appointment of state judges by the governor from a list submitted by the supreme court. The convention ultimately adopted a plan continuing judicial elections.

A merit selection plan was proposed but not adopted at the 1973 constitutional convention.

The legislature passed two concurrent resolutions calling for studies of Louisiana's judicial election system. However, the joint subcommittee on merit selection of judges was unable to agree on a preferred selection method. Since 1978, at least one proposed constitutional amendment calling for merit selection has been introduced in all but one legislative session.

SB 65 was the first bill proposing a merit plan constitutional amendment to be reported out of committee favorably. SB 65 was a joint effort between Senator Hainkel and the Louisiana Organization for Judicial Excellence (LOJE), and it delegated the responsibility for selecting members of the nominating commissions to civic and citizens' groups. A majority of Louisiana judges were opposed to the bill until pressure from three lawsuits challenging Louisiana's judicial election system as violating the Voting Rights Act caused judges to change their minds. The bill was reported favorably in spite of a lack of support from the Louisiana State Bar Association, and opposition from the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association, the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Louis A. Martinet Society (an organization of black attorneys). However, as negotiations continued, it became clear that there were not enough favorable votes for passage in either the Senate or the House, and the bill was tabled.

Governor Roemer appointed a task force on judicial selection to consider judicially mandated remedies to violations of the Voting Rights Act in several judicial circuits and districts. Several groups, including LOJE, the Lousiana District Judges Association, the Court of Appeals Judges Association, the New Orleans Chapter of the League of Women Voters, the Council for a Better Louisiana, the American Bar Association, and the American Judicature Society testified in favor of merit selection. Other groups, such as the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association, the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, the Criminal Defendants Lawyers Association, and the Family Court and Juvenile Court Judges Association supported maintaining judicial elections. The task force recommended three alternatives: an elective plan with modifications in the problem circuits and districts, a merit selection plan, and a hybrid appointive/elective plan. The legislature also created ad hoc nominating commissions to recommend candidates for interim vacancies to the governor for appointment. The governor would select commission members from lists of names submitted by legislators in districts where the vacancies occurred. However, these proposed amendments were soundly defeated in an October referendum election. Ultimately, the legislature modified judicial circuits and districts to comply with the Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

A proposed constitutional amendment (HB 46) calling for judicial merit selection failed 58-43 in the House

HB 908, which would have laid the groundwork for merit selection of judges, fell 19 votes short of the two- thirds approval needed to send a proposed constitutional amendment to the senate.

SBs 206, 207, and 208, introduced by Senator Hainkel, and HBs 21, 213, 214, 215, and 216, sponsored by Representatives Donelon and Bruneau, called for the creation of judicial nominating commissions.

Several bills calling for merit selection were introduced in both the house and senate by Representative Bruneau and Senator Hainkel.

Representative Bruneau and Senator Hainkel again introduced bills calling for merit selection and retention of judges.