Top of Utahn Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, is pitching a change to the way the chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court is selected. Jenkins' proposal, Senate Bill 109, would allow Utah's governor to select a chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court, rather than continuing the longstanding rule of having the five justices who comprise the state Supreme Court decide who leads the court.
Although we don't share the hyped concerns of some opponents of SB109 that it would harm the court's independence, we also oppose Jenkins' bill. In order to make this type of change, there needs to be a compelling reason for the challenge. Frankly, we can't see a reason that justifies a need for the governor to supersede the justices in determining who leads Utah's highest court.
When asked to explain why SB109 was a good idea, Jenkins earlier told the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee that it (SB109) "speaks to the temperament and congeniality of the courts."
On Friday, Jenkins tried to add more clarity. He said that it improves checks and balances and decreases potential conflicts among judges because the chief justice term would be six years in contrast to the governor's four-year term.
Well that certainly clears something up! But what it doesn't do is provide a coherent reason for changing precedent. Nevertheless, SB109 passed committee and awaits further mischief.
We hope the Legislature will soon put an end to SB109. It's simply a piece of bland, needless, plain vanilla legislative time-wasting. For the record, we don't think that state supreme court that had a chief justice appointed by the governor would be corrupted, but there's no corruption -- or problem for that matter -- with the current system.
More than one Utah Supreme Court justice has asked legislators not to support SB109. The Utah State Bar overwhelmingly opposes SB109. They are far more impressive experts than any of our state senators. Since he hasn't offered a reason for his bill, Jenkins should withdraw it. If he doesn't, it should be defeated or allowed to expire.