judicial retention

Defending the Constitution – Why 9/11 still matters today (10 years later)

“It is Tuesday morning, the 11th of September… and you will not forget this date.”
(TV reporter, unknown, reporting from NYC as events unfolded on the morning of 9/11…)

10 years ago today, the most horrific attack ever carried out on American soil claimed the lives of thousands of Americans, making clear that “there’ll be no shelter here – front lines are everywhere.”

Looking back, it occurred to me that I’ve since spent most anniversaries of that fateful Tuesday morning – forever burned into the American psyche as, simply, 9/11 – on duty away from home.

2002: Afghanistan; 2003: Fort Benning, Georgia; 2005: Operation Katrina (hurricane disaster relief/recovery operations); 2006: Fort Bragg, North Carolina; 2009: Camp Williams, Utah; and now this year, 2011: Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.

My experience in this regard is hardly unique – indeed, I’ve spent less time on duty away from home than many others who proudly wear the uniform – a mere token of service willingly rendered in defense of our nation, and the Constitution we are sworn to support and defend.

Sadly, many of the men and women in uniform serving on that day and since – military, NYC Police & Port Authority, and FDNY - are not “invited” to the 10th anniversary of 9/11 at Ground Zero ’due to “lack of room”. Funny – they weren’t “invited” on that fateful day in 2001 either – they just “showed up” and did what needed to be done.

However, America isn’t about the politicians, officials, and various muckety-mucks who’ll be pontificating at that “official” event and others.

America is about the brave people – often bearing only the proud title of “Citizen” – who just “show up” to do what needs doing.

Defending the Constitution – Why 9/11 still matters today (10 years later)

Clear The Bench Colorado joins millions of Americans across the country in somber remembrance of the 9/11 attacks on our nation.

What does this have to do with holding our Colorado Supreme Court justices accountable to the rule of law and the Colorado Constitution?  Quite a lot, actually…

As a proud veteran of the U.S. military (including service in the Colorado Army National Guard), I take my oath of enlistment – “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of Colorado [emphasis added] against all enemies, foreign and domestic”  - seriously; very seriously.

Many of our elected (and unelected) officials seem to have a much more cavalier attitude towards their own oath of office.

Colorado Supreme Court justices also swear a similar oath on taking office, which begins:
“I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Colorado.”

Note that the judicial oath of office does not state “I will support only those parts of the Constitution that I like or with which I personally agree or empathize.”

Yet the Mullarkey Court has consistently ruled against the Colorado Constitution’s Article X, Section 20 (TABOR) in every case it has heard – despite the clear intent and letter of the law that “[i]ts preferred interpretation shall reasonably restrain most the growth of government.”

The Mullarkey Majority (Justices Michael Bender, Alex Martinez, Nancy Rice, Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey) are oathbreakers – and dishonor the service of the men and women of the United States military and law enforcement agencies who put their lives on the line to support and defend our Constitution.  They have proven themselves unworthy of the high office they occupy.

Another important lesson of 9/11 is that individuals matter – and fighting to defend your rights, and your lives, is the only way to preserve your rights (and your life, in extremis) when under attack.  The true heroes of that day were not only the firefighters but also the ordinary citizens who acted to save lives – and the brave passengers on Flight 93 who fought back against the hijackers on the 4th plane and died not as victims, but as American heroes.

We can no longer be under any illusion – as the passengers on Flight 93 discovered – that our rights and lives are NOT under attack; we are threatened by enemies both foreign and domestic.   The nature of the threat (and appropriate response) is different, but the need to take action, to defend your rights – remains the same.

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free -nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

Final Week for Colorado Reapportionment Commission hearings – public testimony on state legislative district maps

The Colorado Reapportionment Commission (charged with drawing our state legislative districts) has completed the final set of preliminary legislative district maps for Colorado, having heard public testimony in meetings in Denver from 31 May to 25 July and bringing the maps to a vote in committee.

This week, the commission wraps up its road show, traveling around the state to solicit additional public testimony and feedback on the preliminary legislative district maps, with hearings in Greeley (Aug 29th), Castle Rock (Aug 30th), back in Denver (Aug 31st), and Broomfield (Sept 1st).

(Details on meeting times and locations available here)

The preliminary state legislative district maps approved by the Colorado Reapportionment Commission may be viewed in their entirety via the following links:

Statewide House district maps (overview and detail)

Statewide Senate district maps (overview and detail)

The point of testifying before the commission in these public hearings is both to sway the voting members of the commission to alter the preliminary maps due to prevailing sentiment on how people in a given area wish to be represented, and to build the record for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review of the constitutionality of the adopted maps.

The following quick-reference summary of constitutional provisions controlling how Colorado’s legislative districts are drawn is provided with a view towards informing public testimony – remember to keep your testimony succinct and know your facts to be more effective.

Colorado Constitutional Requirements:

  • Equal population (with no more than 5% deviation;  ideal district size – Senate: 143, 691, House: 77,372) (Colorado Constitution Article V, Section 46)
  • Counties cannot be split unless necessary to achieve equal population between districts

Except when necessary to meet the equal population requirements of section 46, no part of one county shall be added to all or part of another county in forming districts.  Article V, Section 47(2)

  • Municipalities may not be split unless necessary to achieve equal population between districts (Article V, Section 47(2))
  • Districts must be as compact and contiguous as possible, and consist of whole precincts

(1) Each district shall be as compact in area as possible and the aggregate linear distance of all district boundaries shall be as short as possible. Each district shall consist of contiguous whole general election precincts. Districts of the same house shall not overlap. (Article V, Section 47(1))

  • Finally, communities of interest – ethnic, economic, cultural, demographic, trade area and geographic – are to be preserved whenever possible

(3) Consistent with the provisions of this section and section 46 of this article, communities of interest, including ethnic, cultural, economic, trade area, geographic, and demographic factors, shall be preserved within a single district wherever possible. (Article V, Section 47(3))

Note that per a previous Colorado Supreme Court ruling (In re: Reapportionment of the Colorado General Assembly), these criteria are listed in order of priority – i.e. there’s a hierarchy of constitutional criteria which must be satisfied in order for legislative districts to pass constitutional review.

Additional references:

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free -nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

Last Week in Lobato Trial – will courts decree new school taxes?

The Lobato v. Colorado school funding lawsuit enters its fifth and (likely) final week in trial court in Denver this Monday – with plaintiffs seeking

billions of dollars of additional funding for schools, though it’s unclear where that extra money would come from. (Denver Post, “Colorado school funding trial enters likely final week“)

This educational-funding lawsuit (seeking to force even higher state educational spending by court order) represents yet another abuse of the courts for the pursuit of political ends – unfortunately aided and abetted by an all-too-complicit (and highly political) majority on the Colorado Supreme Court, which previously (October 2009) overturned two lower courts which had (correctly) dismissed the case (Lobato v. Colorado) as non-justiciable (meaning, a policy issue not to be decided by the courts).

Despite the lack of correlation between spending and performance – and despite the failure of court-imposed school funding increases in several states (including Colorado neighbors Kansas and Wyoming) to achieve increased school performance, despite revenue and spending increases -

In Colorado, where per-pupil spending was $8,782 in 2008-09, students often outperformed students in Wyoming, where funding – following a school finance lawsuit – was $14,268 per pupil.

plaintiffs continue to seek additional money that the state simply does not have.  A court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could not only precipitate a constitutional crisis, but lead to a fiscal and budgetary train wreck of epic proportions.  Indeed, as Governor Hickenlooper correctly points out, the consequences for Colorado would be “devastating.

If the courts are able to decide “the future of public education” by judicial fiat, Colorado citizens will have lost all control and accountability over our schools.

The issue of educational funding is NOT one for the courts, but rather for the legislature and/or local school boards. The Lobato lawsuit is a fiscal, legal, and political disaster in the making.

Read more about the Lobato school funding case in these recent articles:

These cases highlight the importance of fair and impartial courts and of judges who exercise proper restraint (in accordance with the rule of law) in considering – let alone deciding – issues of policy more appropriate for the elected, representative branches of government.  Our courts have an important – even vital – role to play in our society and system of government.  This is not it.

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free -nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

After Colorado Supreme Court Justice Alex Martinez resigns – Who selects the next Colorado Supreme Court justice, and how?

Wednesday’s surprise announcement by Colorado Supreme Court Justice Alex Martinez that he intends to resign from the bench (in order to become Denver Manager of Safety) brings renewed focus to the judicial selection and retention system in Colorado.  Unlike other states, many of which either elect judges or appoint them without any form of popular accountability, Colorado’s mixed system of appointment and accountability via retention elections is not well understood by the general public.

Misconceptions, misunderstanding, and misinformation about the process for selecting the judicial branch officeholders in Colorado is (unfortunately) all too common. Part of Clear The Bench Colorado’s mission is to contribute to informing the electorate about their constitutional rights to hold the judiciary accountable via the retention election process, and the process for selecting replacements for outgoing judges.  Since We The People do not vote for their replacements, who gets to decide?

Unfortunately, most Colorado citizens know more about the process of picking the Pope than about how our state selects nominees for judicial office.

This is unfortunate – because, despite some flaws (most importantly, a lack of transparency and public accountability – secrecy encouraged by the legal establishment, who are more interested in protecting their members and covering for their ‘buddies on the bench’ than allowing them to be called to account), the process does provide some level of front-end vetting of judicial applicants, filtering out the obviously unqualified and excessively partisan (weeding out the ‘worst of the worst’).

Clear The Bench Colorado published an overview of the judicial selection process (”Selecting the next Colorado Supreme Court justice(s) post-Mullarkey retirement and retention elections – who decides?“) last year; this article is an updated version, incorporating insights gained from discussions with former Nominating Commission members.

How Colorado selects individuals for judicial office:

Under the Colorado Constitution, Article VI (Judiciary), Section 20:

Vacancies. (1) A vacancy in any judicial office in any court of record shall be filled by appointment of the governor, from a list of three nominees for the supreme court… such list to be certified to him by the supreme court nominating commission for a vacancy in the supreme court

First, although the governor has the final say in the process (making the final pick), he does not have an entirely free hand.  Unlike the process for selecting Federal judges, there is NO role under Colorado’s “merit selection” process for the legislative branch to provide a check or balance to executive power via “advice and consent.”  The legislature does not weigh in on the process in any formal or legal way (although individual legislators may make their thoughts known to the governor, who has the final say).

Instead, the “front-end” check is provided by an appointed Judicial Nominating Commission, as described in this entry in the Judgepedia website:

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission recommends candidates to serve as judges for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. The chief justice of the Supreme Court chairs the commission and is a non-voting member. This commission includes one citizen admitted to practice law in Colorado and one citizen not admitted to practice law residing in each of the state’s seven congressional districts, and one additional citizen not admitted to practice law in Colorado.[1]

Commission members serve six-year terms. Non-lawyers, who are the majority of every nominating commission, are appointed by the governor. Lawyer members are appointed by joint action of the governor, attorney general, and chief justice.

Not noted in the Judgepedia article, but specified under the constitutional language (Article VI, Section 24 Judicial nominating commissions) is a requirement for some partisan balance on the commission:

(2) The supreme court nominating commission shall consist of the chief justice or acting chief justice of the supreme court, ex officio, who shall act as chairman and shall have no vote, one citizen admitted to practice law before the courts of this state and one other citizen not admitted to practice law in the courts of this state residing in each congressional district in the state, and one additional citizen not admitted to practice law in the courts of this state. No more than one half of the commission members plus one, exclusive of the chief justice, shall be members of the same political party.

The commission has 30 days from when the vacancy is announced to meet, review applications, conduct interviews, and select three finalists to submit to the governor, who then has 15 days to make a selection (if the governor fails to make a pick, then the Chief Justice selects instead).

Newly appointed justices “shall hold office for a provisional term of two years and then until the second Tuesday in January following the next general election” after which they enjoy 10-year terms:

Section 7. Term of office. The full term of office of justices of the supreme court shall be ten years.

By the Numbers: How the Judicial Selection Process actually works

  1. On announcement of the vacancy and solicitation for application, prospective nominees submit an extensive application packet (including a long questionnaire, writing sample, background information, summary of relevant professional experience, and references).
  2. Commission members review the applications, and select from the total list (last year, 31 people applied for the impending vacancy) for interviews (a particular candidate will be interviewed if any commissioner expresses a strong desire to have them appear).  Commissioners consider the current makeup of the court, and may advocate for a specific constituency – a particular area of legal expertise – such as water or business law, or possibly a regional or ethnic representation in pursuit of court ‘diversity’).  Interviews are based on a common set of ‘core’ questions (for consistency of comparison & evaluation); each commissioner develops and uses his/her own evaluation criteria.
  3. Following interviews, the commission deliberates/discusses the candidate, voicing comments or concerns to the group at large.
  4. Following all of the interviews, the commission casts a ballot – three unranked votes per opening (for the Colorado Supreme Court or Court of Appeals – lower courts may only require 2-3 nominees).  The top vote-getters become the finalists – with the caveat that any finalist MUST receive a majority of total Commission votes (i.e. 8 of 15), irrespective of how many are actually present.  Multiple ballots may be (generally are) necessary.  (Note that the current makeup of the Nominating Commission – 7 Democrats, 5 Republicans, 3 Unaffiliated –  ensures that any finalists MUST receive at least one vote from multiple party affiliations).
  5. The names of the three finalists are submitted for consideration by the governor, who has 15 days to make a selection from the list.

ALL of our sources (from differing party backgrounds) have stressed that the Nomination Commission deliberations are non-partisan (which is not to say, as our sources admit, that the deliberations and considerations do not reflect ideology or judicial philosophy – which is, in our view, entirely appropriate).

A common critique of Colorado’s system of “merit selection & retention” for judges is the lack of transparency in commission deliberations (both during front-end judicial selection, and in back-end judicial performance review and retention) and lack of meaningful opportunity for public participation and comment.  This lack of transparency leads to a lack of public confidence in our judiciary and ultimately to a lack of accountability for the increasingly active and powerful Third Branch of our government.

Our judicial system depends more than any other branch of government on public trust and confidence that the law is being applied fairly and impartially for all citizens – that our supreme court justices are fulfilling their proper roles as referees upholding the rules rather than players attempting to score for their “team’s” agenda.

Our view: an informed citizenry and active citizen participation is vital in restoring accountability and transparency to the 3rd branch of state government, the judicial branch – most particularly for the Colorado Supreme Court.

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free -nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Alex Martinez announces impending resignation, takes city job in Denver

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Alex Martinez unexpectedly announced earlier today (Wednesday, August 24th 2011) that he intends to resign his seat on the state’s highest court in order to take a job with the City of Denver as Manager of Safety.

Justice Martinez, who was retained in office November 2010 with the lowest percentage of “retain” votes for an incumbent state supreme court justice in Colorado history (59%, narrowly edging current Chief Justice Michael Bender’s 60% and Justice Nancy Rice’s 62% for “worst ever;” incumbent supreme court justices are typically retained with 75-80% of the vote) could have continued to hold office for another decade.

Clear The Bench Colorado considers it a win for Colorado – and the damaged reputation of the Colorado judiciary – that he will not.

At the risk of once again being called “the skunk at the garden party” by the Denver Post, we point out the “troubling legacy” of Justice Martinez’s tenure on the bench (much as the “troubling legacy” of resigning Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey was reviewed at the time of her resignation – by the Post).

Justice Martinez was in fact one of the most reliable members of the highly political “Mullarkey Majority”, joining in or writing all of the key decisions over the past decade that made a mockery of constitutional jurisprudence in Colorado:

Justice Martinez’s legacy on the Colorado Supreme Court is indeed “troubling” – as noted in the Evaluations of Judicial Performance published prior to the November 2010 election.

While we bear Justice Martinez no personal animosity (by all accounts, he’s a nice guy) and wish him the best in his future endeavors as Denver Manager of Safety, we greet his departure from the Colorado Supreme Court with favor and look forward with guarded optimism to welcoming a new Colorado Supreme Court justice dedicated to upholding the Colorado Constitution and restoring the rule of law.

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free -nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

New Maps Renew Focus on Colorado Congressional Redistricting Court Battle

The unveiling of new map proposals by Democrat and Republican parties over the last few days has renewed focus on the legal battle to determine the boundaries of Colorado’s Congressional districts, since the legislature (specifically the state senate) failed to do its job by passing redistricting legislation as required by the Colorado Constitution and sent it to the courts for the fourth consecutive decade at the end of the legislative session in May) .

Republicans were first to file their proposed Congressional district map in court (on Friday); interestingly, it makes few changes from the map drawn by the courts (in violation of Colorado’s clear constitutional language assigning responsibility for Congressional redistricting to the General Assembly) a decade ago.

…under the GOP map, Baca County on the southeastern border is the only entire county to moved into another district. …

The GOP also said the map “moves the “absolute fewest number of Coloradans” possible in order to accomodate (sic) population shifts in the last decade, according to court records.

On Monday, the Democrats filed their map with the court – which “proposed dramatic changes to Colorado’s congressional boundaries.”  As noted in the Denver Post’s article, the most radical changes would be to the 6th Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Mike Coffman, moving the district significantly northward to include all of Aurora, dividing the western half of both Arapahoe and Adams counties and extending into Weld County, and moving Douglas and Elbert counties to the 4th Congressional District (currently represented by freshman Republican Cory Gardner), which would lose most of Larimer County to the 2nd Congressional District (represented by Democrat Jared Polis).

The 7th Congressional District (represented by Democrat Ed Perlmutter) would shift west to include the north-metro suburbs in western Adams County (which would thus be split between three different congressional districts) and the west-metro suburbs of northeastern Jefferson County (which would be split between two congressional districts, with the remainder in the 2nd District along with Boulder).

View maps here.

Neither set of maps seems ideal (the GOP map’s perpetuation of the unsightly court-created 7th CD “claw” around the northern metro Denver area remains troublesome); it remains to be seen whether the courts will strictly adhere to the constitutional criteria guiding the boundaries of legislative districts, according to established precedent, or if they’ll be swayed by more “non-neutral” political considerations (such as those enacted under the “Mary-mandering” legislation passed at the conclusion of the 2010 legislative session).

The “Hobbs Hierarchy” should be the decisive criteria for evaluating the constitutionality of Colorado’s Congressional and legislative districts; in priority order:

  • Equal population (U.S. Constitution, 14th Amendment, Equal Protection one person/one vote)
  • Maintain County boundaries intact unless necessary to achieve equal population (Colorado Constitution Art. V, Section 47(2))
  • Maintain municipal boundaries intact unless necessary to achieve equal population (Colorado Constitution Art. V, Section 47(2))
  • Districts must be as compact as possible and composed of contiguous election precincts (Colorado Constitution Art. V, Section 47(1))
  • Communities of interest – ethnic, economic, cultural, demographic, trade area and geographic – shall be preserved within a single district wherever possible. (Art. V, Section 47(3))

In any event, the case (combined cases, actually) bears careful watching as it plays out in court.

Additional references:

  • Constitutional Provisions Controlling Reapportionment/Redistricting (official Colorado state website, which collates relevant constitutional language on Congressional redistricting and state legislative reapportionment)
  • Redistricting in Colorado (Ballotpedia site – although the site contains several errors, some of which are being corrected, it does provide useful context and historical background on past restricting battles.  As with any Wiki site – contributions come from a variety of sources and are frequently edited – proceed with some skepticism)

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free -nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

Monday Media Review: School choice, school funding lawsuits highlight courts’ inappropriately rising role in education policy

Continuing coverage of the pair of lawsuits seeking to have the courts decide educational policy in Colorado (the Douglas County school choice case, and the Lobato statewide educational funding case) over the weekend highlights the increasing role of the courts (as opposed to elected school boards, or the state legislature in whom constitutional authority for making education policy & resourcing decisions is vested) in deciding how – and under what conditions –  our children receive an education.

Friday’s Denver Post published a guest commentary (“Lobato case is crucial to education“) that was nothing more than a special-interest plea for more money (that the state does not have) by the same people (a pair of school superintendants) who in one breath admit that “we find ourselves failing” but blame their failure solely on a “lack of resources” (never mind the successful accomplishments of other schools, particularly – but not only – charter and private schools less dependent on state funding).

The guest commentary fails utterly to substantiate a link between educational funding and performance, and fails to make the case for how “Colorado’s school funding system… is constitutionally inadequate” – since the Constitution leaves such questions of policy up to the state legislature, NOT the courts.

This educational-funding lawsuit (seeking to force even higher state educational spending by court order) represents yet another abuse of the courts for the pursuit of political ends – unfortunately aided and abetted by an all-too-complicit (and highly political) majority on the Colorado Supreme Court, which previously (October 2009) overturned two lower courts which had (correctly) dismissed the case (Lobato v. Colorado) as non-justiciable (meaning, a policy issue not to be decided by the courts).

The authors are correct in one regard:

In terms of the future of public education, Lobato is the most important case ever tried in Colorado.

If the courts are able to decide “the future of public education” by judicial fiat, Colorado citizens will have lost all control and accountability over our schools.

  • Douglas County school choice lawsuit:

Saturday’s Colorado Springs Gazette editorial (“Backward voucher ruling favors oppression“) was a scathing indictment of Denver District judge Michael Martinez’ ruling to stop the Douglas County school choice program via permanent injunction, calling it “a decision to segregate and oppress.”

The editorial correctly points out a fatal flaw in Judge Martinez’ ruling, which ignored governing constitutional precedent (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, No. 00-1751, decided 27 June 2002, U.S. Supreme Court) holding that voucher programs did NOT violate the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause:

In Colorado, education money attaches to children. With each child who enrolls, a public school gets more than $6,000 for the year.

Vouchers issue the money to parents. At that point, the money belongs to the parent and child. They are free to spend it at almost any accredited school, religious or otherwise.

The key point – that educational choice belongs to the parent, not to the government (especially, not to the courts) – bears repeating:

Once state money is converted to a voucher and given to a child, it’s no longer the government’s. It belongs to the child, who is subject to the will of a parent or guardian. Parents and guardians have the right to choose whether their children are schooled in secular or religious settings.

The Gazette’s editorial concludes by endorsing an appeal to a higher court: “Let’s hope this ignorant, backward ruling is soon overturned.”

Sunday’s Denver Post editorial (“The latest hurdle for school choice“) chimed in with (surprising!) support for the Douglas County school choice program in principle, but sounded a more cautionary note on the prospects for appellate success:

And while Douglas County officials have said they intend to appeal Denver District Judge Michael A. Martinez’s ruling, the language of his opinion – along with the current makeup of the Colorado Supreme Court – does not leave much room for optimism.

The Post’s editors have a point – they certainly are intimately familiar with the political predilections of the Colorado Supreme Court, as they are the court’s current landlords (a possible factor in the Post’s non-coverage of last year’s judicial retention elections) – but if the DougCo school board first takes their case to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which has largely been a bright spot for actually upholding the law in Colorado – they may have a decent shot at success, and will in any case build up a good record for where the case may ultimately be decided in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Finally, this morning’s (Monday) Parker Chronicle (online) reported on the first step of the appeal process (“Douglas County School District launches appeal process“):

The district announced it filed a stay of the permanent injunction filed against its choice scholarship pilot program, designed to deliver school vouchers to 500 district students. The program was stopped on Aug. 12 with the decision by Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez, who ruled it unconstitutional in part because it routes public education money to private, religious schools,
In a news release issued Aug. 19, the district calls its motion “the first legal step in a planned appeal” of Martinez’s ruling.

Clearly, the fight for choice – and control – of education in  Colorado’s courts is just beginning.

These cases highlight the importance of fair and impartial courts and of judges who exercise proper restraint (in accordance with the rule of law) in considering – let alone deciding – issues of policy more appropriate for the elected, representative branches of government.  Our courts have an important – even vital – role to play in our society and system of government.  This is not it.

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free -nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

Weekend Wrap-up: Colorado courts ruling o’er state schools

Citizens of Colorado hold elections every year to send representatives to different venues to consider and decide on policy (and allocate resources) for their children’s education: in odd-numbered years, for local school boards; in even-numbered years, for the state legislature, which has the constitutional authority to “provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state.

Yet ultimately, the decisions about how education is funded, and how schools are run, are being made in neither of these arenas, but in the courts.

News coverage this week has highlighted this fact with two prominent cases:

  • Douglas County school choice voucher program
  • Lobato v. Colorado education-funding lawsuit

In the Douglas County school voucher program, the issue before the court revolves around whether an elected school district board has “the broad authority to contract with private schools for the provision of a public education to public school students.” [per Education Policy Center]  One might think that making decisions about the provision of public education is precisely why county residents elect a school board, but apparently (at least in the view of the plaintiffs, and the courts in Colorado) those decisions are better made by appointed judges.

The Douglas County case also touches upon important constitutional issues such a separation of powers, establishment of religion, and collection & allocation of tax dollars, but ultimately comes down to a very basic and fundamental issue: who decides how to educate Colorado’s children?

For additional information on this case, read:

Lobato v. Colorado education-funding lawsuit

The case with far broader implications for public education in Colorado (and the state’s budget) is the Lobato v. Colorado education-funding lawsuit, which just wrapped up the 2nd week (in a trial expected to last 5 weeks total) of testimony and argument, also in Denver District Court.

In this lawsuit, plaintiffs allege (on the basis of a single phrase in the state Constitution, without regard for the actual assignment of decision-making authority and responsibility to the state legislature in that same phrase) that Colorado’s school-funding system is “unconstitutional.”  Plaintiffs seek an additional $3-4 BILLION per year in state spending (plus a near-term increase in school construction of some $18 Billion) to “fix” the alleged constitutional deficit.

One not need look very far (indeed, just across the border to Kansas) to see the potential for a fiscal and budgetary train wreck of epic proportions.  Indeed, as Governor Hickenlooper correctly points out, the consequences for Colorado would be “devastating.

This educational-funding lawsuit (seeking to force even higher state educational spending by court order) represents yet another abuse of the courts for the pursuit of political ends – unfortunately aided and abetted by an all-too-complicit (and highly political) majority on the Colorado Supreme Court, which previously (October 2009) overturned two lower courts which had (correctly) dismissed the case (Lobato v. Colorado) as non-justiciable (meaning, a policy issue not to be decided by the courts).

Bottom Line: the lawsuit seeks money the state simply does not have, based on extremely tenuous grounds (a few words in the state Constitution calling for “thorough and uniform” education), and is improperly seeking to achieve these goals via the courts, not through the legislative branch or local school boards where such issues are properly decided.

The issue of educational funding is NOT one for the courts, but rather for the legislature and/or local school boards. The Lobato lawsuit is a fiscal, legal, and political disaster in the making.

Read more about the Lobato school funding case in these recent articles:

These cases highlight the importance of fair and impartial courts and of judges who exercise proper restraint (in accordance with the rule of law) in considering – let alone deciding – issues of policy more appropriate for the elected, representative branches of government.  Our courts have an important – even vital – role to play in our society and system of government.  This is not it.

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free -nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

Clear The Bench Colorado Director Matt Arnold featured panelist at National Conference on Evaluating Appellate Judges today

The Denver-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) – “a national, non-partisan organization dedicated to improving the process and culture of the civil justice system” – is hosting a National Conference on Evaluating Appellate Judges on 11-12 August on the campus of the University of Denver (Sturm Hall, 2000 E. Asbury Avenue, Denver CO 80208).

Clear The Bench Colorado Director Matt Arnold is, by special invitation, a featured panelist on the topic of “Evaluating Appellate Judges: Are we doing it right? How can we do it better?

(Short answers: “NO”, and “view our Evaluations of Judicial Performance page for an idea”).

To the Institute’s credit, they (IAALS) extended the invitation even after being taken to task for their involvement in the “Know Your Judge” campaign which likely violated Colorado campaign finance laws in advocating against Clear The Bench Colorado’s judicial accountability efforts during the state’s 2010 judicial retention elections without ever bothering to register with the Office of Secretary of State, as required by law.  (The case is currently winding its way through the appellate process).

Since being announced last month, the conference has gained attention in the legal profession press, both locally (the Denver Bar Association and Colorado Bar Association featured the event in their respective newsletters, following Law Week Colorado’s coverage) and nationally:

For more on the topic (and for “what promises to be an engaging and thought-provoking” discussion), you’ll have to attend the conference, which is open to the public and free of charge (register online).

From the conference website:

This national conference will consider ways to improve existing processes for evaluating the performance of appellate judges and for informing voters about evaluation results. Chief Justice Mark Cady of the Iowa Supreme Court is the featured speaker. We invite you to join us for what promises to be an engaging and thought-provoking event.

For Colorado attorneys and judges, 9 hours of general CLE credits, including 1.2 hours of ethics, may be earned.

Click here for the conference agenda.

Topics include:

  • The appellate judge: What makes a good appellate judge? Can we capture these qualities in the evaluation process?
  • Evaluating appellate judges: Are we doing it right? How could we do it better?
  • Retention elections, special interests, and voters: Perspectives from a justice, a journalist, and a scholar

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free -nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

Monday Media Survey – Lobato education-funding lawsuit budget-buster aided and abetted by Colorado Supreme Court

The potentially budget-busting Lobato v. Colorado education-funding lawsuit – restored to life in October 2009 by the Colorado Supreme Court after having been rejected as non-justiciable by two lower courts – enters its second week of trial court hearings today.

Numerous analysts and commentators have noted that if the Lobato lawsuit succeeds, it will negatively impact Colorado’s schools and end up hurting – not helping – Colorado’s school-age children.  Shortly before the lawsuit went to trial last Monday, Colorado’s Democrat Governor John Hickenlooper and Republican Attorney General John Suthers took the unusual step of issuing a joint statement opposing the lawsuit, “arguing that it could cost the state billions of dollars if it loses in court.

Over the weekend, Colorado’s leading newspapers weighed in further on the issue.

Sunday’s Denver Post (“Future uncertain if plaintiffs win education-funding Lobato case“) highlighted the uncertainty around just how deeply the lawsuit could affect Colorado’s budget if successful, calling it “uncharted territory.”  The Post article did note, however:

In other states where such school-funding “adequacy” suits have prevailed, court decisions have forced greater spending on schools. (Emphasis added)

The Pueblo Chieftain’s Sunday editorial, “Billions More,” was less timorous in its conclusions:

HERE WE are trying to dig ourselves out of the Great Recession, with Colorado’s state budget barely balanced with scads of gimmicks, and now a group is seeking a court order for the state to spend umpteen billions more on public schools.

The article further noted the dubious constitutional grounds for the lawsuit:

Attorney General John Suthers argues – correctly, we believe – that discretion in school funding constitutionally rests with voters and lawmakers, not the courts. He said a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could cost the state up to $4 billion annually.

Worse, the article notes, the plaintiffs have also asked for massive – and immediate – increases in school construction:

Moreover, because the lawsuit asks for massive new school construction, the suit could cost the state an additional $18 billion. (Emphasis added)

Bottom Line: the lawsuit seeks money the state simply does not have, based on extremely tenuous grounds (an expository phrase in the state Constitution calling for “thorough and uniform” education), and is improperly seeking to achieve these goals via the courts, not through the legislative branch where such issues are properly decided.

The issue of educational funding is NOT one for the courts, but rather for the legislature and/or local school boards. The Lobato lawsuit is a fiscal, legal, and political disaster in the making.

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free -nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

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