To Appoint or To Reappoint, That is the Question
One of the restrictions on membership on Rhode Island’s Judicial Nomination Commission, part of the system intended to provide for merit selection of judges in Rhode Island, is this…
No member shall be reappointed to the commission.Governor Donald Carcieri wants to interpret this law as prohibiting only sitting members of the commission from being reappointed to consecutive terms, and reappoint someone (C. June Tow) who already served a previous term between 1998 and 2002. Senator James Sheehan (D-Narragansett/North Kingstown) argues in today’s Projo that this interpretation of the law is absurd, as it would mean that the same group of people could be reappointed to the commission ad infinitum, as long as they took some time off between terms. Senator Sheehan has asked the Attorney General for an advisory opinion on the issue.
Jon Pincince of RI Law Journal has an analysis of how the legislature’s intent probably was to bar anyone from serving more than one term, but that the letter of the law does allow room for either interpretation. (Obviously, the RI Legislature needs more practice in writing effective reform laws!)
Though I am skeptical of relying too heavily on “legislative intent” arguments, which are not applied with consistency, with all of the other major problems that Rhode Island is facing, I don’t see fighting this battle as a great use of the Governor’s political capital.
Perhaps if someone on the guv’s staff had some sense, they might advise him that there are bigger fish to fry.
What the Dems consistently do to evade the law on this is simply leave an incumbent in office indefinitely. By law the incumbent has a set term but may continue to serve until a successor is appointed and qualified. By leaving a “stale” appointee in place, the appointing authority thwarts the intent of the law — no need to reappoint the member because he or she can simply continue to serve — and gains the double advantage of having the ability to terminate the appointee — by replacing him or her — should the appointee not confirm to the appointing authority’s wishes.
Great point, Brassband. Yet another case of Dems in Rhode Island saying “do as I say, not as I do.”
As it so happens, I’ve known Ms. Tow for a number of years through my work with a non-political non-profit organization that I’ve had involvement in. She’s a wonderful lady, extremely intelligent, and would be a great addition to pretty much any board or commission you could possibly think of.
The way I read the law (which is “how it’s actually written”), I’d say the governor has a great case, simply due to its obvious ambiguities. Obviously, if the legislature wanted to tighten or loosen the existing language, that could be accomplished legislatively.