Local voters got it right in retaining judges

The Examiner

A show of hands, please.

Who is going to miss:

• The political ads on TV?

• The telephone robocalls?

• The scathing back and forth between politicians and their supporters?

Yeah, me neither. I’m so glad all that is over.

Ken Garten

Speaking of election stuff, I was more than a little surprised that The Kansas City Star came out and urged voters not to retain three of the judges on the retention ballot on the Jackson County Circuit Court.

It cited some incident of claimed insensitivity or unfairness as to each.

To prevent further dissemination of what I firmly view as unfounded and unfair criticism, I’m not going to name them here. But I would say, of all the judges on the Jackson County Circuit Court, the three judges called out were, in my opinion as a lawyer in practice in this county for some 35 years, among the good judges we have in this circuit.

And perhaps, their inclination to call 'em like they see 'em, regardless of political correctness, was what incited the wrath of their critics.

Fortunately, all were retained by voters. So that is that.

But I am concerned by political pressure being placed on judges by mainstream media.

I have practiced before judges whose main concern seems to be avoidance of controversy, and fear of being criticized. Give me a judge with the courage to follow the law and make the right calls, regardless of politics and fear of criticism, any day.

That is the role of the judiciary. Not to be beholden to the popular, safe route but to have the judicial courage to uphold the law and do what is right, regardless of political concerns and who may be unhappy with their decisions.

I’m also concerned that if we get in the habit of voting out of office judges (which we hardly ever do in the Kansas City area), that could have an unsettling effect, which may undermine necessary judicial courage and independence, and also have a chilling effect on good lawyers stepping up to serve on the bench.

After all, what outstanding lawyer would want to shut down a successful law practice and go be a judge if there was a proclivity of the voting public to vote them out of office when they face a retention vote.

I believe that could seriously undermine the quality of candidates applying to serve on the judiciary.

We certainly don’t need that, in my humble opinion.

Speaking of the quality of judicial candidates, I was supremely disappointed that the Republican-controlled Senate blocked the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland 11 months before the end of Barack Obama’s time as president but somehow managed to justify rushing through the confirmation of Donald Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett in less than a month.

I guess the ultimate justification is, they could and so they did. Fair enough.

Still, having watched much of her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I was quite impressed with her scholarly credentials, her demeanor, her knowledge, and the way she handled herself. Very impressed.

And while many may identify her as a hard-core right-wing conservative, I have confidence that she will be an adherent to the rule of law, and precedent, and that she will not be a harbinger of a radical shift in Supreme Court decision-making.

Part of this comes from the security of a lifetime appointment, and insulation from being ousted for opinions and decisions that may be unpopular to some.

This is how the judicial branch should fly. And that includes the United States Supreme Court, and the Jackson County Circuit Court as well.

Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at krgarten@yahoo.com.