October 20, 2010 - 11:00 pm
Thanks to lawmakers making it more difficult for private citizens to place initiative questions before voters, Nevada’s typical ballot has gotten shorter and shorter over the past few years. This cycle is no different, with just five questions — one advisory — on the ballot for most Nevada voters.
Perhaps the most important is Question 1, which would revamp the process by which we select our judges.
Currently, those seeking seats on the state Supreme Court or District Court must run for election. Only when a judge resigns midterm is an appointment process used. Question 1 seeks to overhaul the system so that the governor – selecting from candidates nominated by a Commission on Judicial Selection — would appoint judges to their initial terms. Once in office, the judges would then serve at least a year before standing in retention elections in which they would need 55 percent of the vote to keep their seats.
Proponents argue that making judges run for election — and raise money for campaigns — undermines confidence in the judicial system and abets corruption by injecting partisan politics into a system that should be above the fray. They also argue that Nevada will get better judges if members of a “selection committee,” rather than the public, vet potential jurists.
But neither argument is particularly convincing.
There is scant evidence that creating a committee to select judges actually removes the politics from the process – in fact, it simply shifts the political concerns into a different arena, specifically aiding those who are in good with the elites making the choices. In addition, Nevada voters over the long haul have done a pretty good job of quickly getting rid of the bad jurists who managed to slip past them.
The bottom line: Those who favor this proposal simply don’t trust the voters. We do, and we are extremely reluctant to recommend that Nevadans cede some of the minimal power they have over the judiciary. Vote no on Question 1.
Question 2 would create a state appellate court.
Under the present system, all cases appealed from District Court go directly to the state Supreme Court. Under this proposal, the Legislature would be empowered to create an appellate court, which would be the court of last resort for cases the high court justices refused to hear.
The main concern here is that any new court would be a drain on the already bloody state budget — and would eventually require Taj Mahal facilities to make its ever-growing number of judges comfortable.
But it’s not debatable that growth in this state has strained the judiciary, which is a vital and legitimate function of government. An appellate court has the potential to help streamline litigation at all levels, particularly taking a burden off the Supreme Court, which has already taken important steps to deal with its growing caseloads. The fact that this can be done without the need for new facilities — as proponents vow — puts it over the top. Vote yes on Question 2.
Question 3 is a rather arcane proposal that would make it easier for the Legislature to amend the Sales and Use Tax Act of 1955.
State law demands that voters approve any changes in the statute. Proponents argue that such a restriction would create delays when the act must be altered to come in compliance with federal law or an interstate compact. In fact, the state has survived some 55 years without this initiative. We see no reason why voters should give up some of their oversight in this area, particularly when this could set the stage for allowing the state to tax sales on Internet purchases. Vote no on Question 3.
Question 4 is a last-ditch effort to prevent a twice-approved initiative limiting the government’s powers of eminent domain from going into effect. Proponents claim the constitutional amendment will burden their ability to maintain and upgrade infrastructure and limit public-private partnerships, but their arguments are speculative and were already rejected two years ago by Nevadans who sought to send a strong message that governments for too long have abused eminent domain at the expense of private property owners.
We see no reason to water down the People’s Initiative to Stop Taking Our Lands. Vote no on Question 4.
The final measure, Question 5, is an advisory question sought by local governments upset with lawmakers raiding their coffers to help mitigate state budget woes. It is not binding, but asks what voters think about forcing lawmakers to seek the consent of the local governments before imposing unfunded mandates or shifting tax revenues.
Unfortunately, this is the wrong way for local governments to attack the problem. In Nevada, local governments are created by the Legislature. All power resides in Carson City. It is indeed troublesome for counties and cities to budget their revenues only to have the state swoop in. But if that’s the concern, the cities and counties should be clamoring for home rule — under which they are severed from Carson City and have the power to address their own concerns without approval from lawmakers.
Question 5, as it stands, will do nothing to actually address the issue raised. Vote no on Question 5.R-J Endorsements