Governor seeks judicial restraint in Supreme Court

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he wants to fill a vacancy on the Vermont Supreme Court with a person who will exercise judicial restraint. It’s a characteristic that Douglas says was lacking in the Court’s landmark decision in the late 1990s on school funding.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Douglas was unhappy with a list of six potential candidates that was forwarded to him by state’s Judicial Nominating Board last month, and he wants the Board to reopen the entire search process. The governor complained that the Board had screened out some highly qualified candidates and he wants the Board to send him a larger number of candidates in the future.

Douglas says there’s no litmus test for potential candidates, but there are some qualities that he’s looking for:

(Douglas) “I want the best possible justice I can find. I want someone who is energetic and knowledgeable in the law, someone who is impartial and can fairly apply the facts to a particular case. Someone who understands the doctrine of judicial restraint, someone who has administrative skills to assist in the administration of a large and growing court system. I want, in sum, the best possible person I can find.”

(Kinzel) The governor told reporters that judicial restraint is one of his top qualifications for a new justice. Douglas says the court’s famous Brigham decision – a decision that led to the passage of Act 60 – is an example of judicial activism, a quality he’s not seeking with this appointment:

(Douglas) “I really think that a court needs to use as much restraint as possible. And to look at the constitutional provision on requiring a sufficient number of schools in the community and come up with a requirement for a new school funding law is pushing it, very frankly. So I tend to think that the court has leaned in some cases to be a little more adventuresome rather than less.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s encouraged a number of people to apply for the court vacancy, however he declined to identify these individuals.

The Judicial Nominating Board is scheduled to meet next week. It will decide at that time whether or not it will reconsider some of the applications it rejected last month. The Board also has the option of completely reopening the search process and allowing new applications to be filed. Douglas is asking the Board to select this second option.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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