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SD lawmakers seek role in picking judges

Russell Olson1 / 2
Jason Frerichs2 / 2

PIERRE -- The state Judicial Qualifications Commission would be expanded to nine members by adding two members who would be appointed by the Legislature's leaders, under a measure that received unanimous approval Wednesday by a legislative panel.

The proposal represents a compromise, according to Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg. He initially sought to give the Legislature control of two of the three seats currently appointed by the State Bar president.

Senate Republican leader Russ Olson, of Wentworth, stressed there isn't a problem with the bar president. "It restrengthens the balance of powers," he said.

Senate Democratic leader Jason Frerichs of Wilmot said adding two seats will encourage more involvement by citizens. "I think it's worthwhile and it's a good bill," he said.

SB 198 now goes to the full Senate for consideration. No other witnesses testified in favor or against the bill during its hearing Wednesday before the Senate State Affairs Committee.

The commission screens applicants and makes recommendations to the governor regarding vacancies for circuit judges and Supreme Court justices. The commission also oversees behavior of lawyers and judges.

Currently, the governor and the judicial branch each controls two seats apiece, along with the State Bar's three seats. Judicial appointments aren't subject to confirmation by the Legislature.

Brown said the proposal is an attempt to keep an appropriate balance between the branches of government. He said the idea came to mind during a discussion about balance on the new oversight panel for the criminal justice initiative.

He said the Legislature should have "a little bit of say" on how laws are interpreted.

The change would mean each branch of state government would have two seats. Brown said the intent is the legislative appointments would come from outside the Legislature.