Chieftain omitted opposition to judicial term limits amendment

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The Pueblo Chieftain quoted the chief proponent of a ballot initiative proposing to amend the Colorado Constitution to impose judicial term limits, but failed to mention or quote from any of the amendment's opponents.

In an August 11 article reporting that an initiative proposing to amend the Colorado Constitution to impose judicial term limits will appear on the November ballot, The Pueblo Chieftain quoted the amendment's chief proponent, Republican former state Senate president John Andrews, but failed to mention or quote from any of the amendment's opponents. In contrast, both the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press reported that Andrews's amendment is opposed by Republican Attorney General John Suthers, among others, and outlined opponents' objections.

The Chieftain article, by Denver Bureau reporter Charles Ashby, also gave a misleading account of current law on judicial terms, stating, "Currently, justices serve terms of 10 years before they are up for retention votes. Appeals court judges serve eight-year terms before voters get a chance to see if they want to retain them in office." In fact, both Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges initially serve a provisional term lasting two years, after which they face a retention election.

Currently, the governor initially appoints Colorado Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges. Following the provisional two-year term, Supreme Court justices face retention elections and, if voters retain them, serve 10-year terms, facing retention elections at the end of each term. Court of Appeals judges serve a provisional two-year term, followed by eight-year terms, and similarly face retention elections at the end of the provisional term and each subsequent full term. There is currently no limit to the number of terms justices and judges can serve if voters retain them. The proposed amendment, known as Amendment 40, would limit justices and judges' service to 10 years total (a provisional two-year term followed by two four-year terms) and would require them to stand in retention elections at the end of their provisional terms and again four years later.

Ashby reported that Andrews "said the limits are needed to 'rein in activist judges and take back our courts.' " Ashby did not cite any opponents of the amendment and did not mention any of their arguments.

By contrast, the News reported on August 11 that Amendment 40 "face[s] stiff opposition from a coalition including Attorney General John Suthers, the Colorado Bar Association, the Colorado Judicial Institute, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Denver District Attorney Mitchell Morrissey." The News reported that "[o]pponents said the measure would devastate the court system and kick off most state judges because it applies to those currently on the bench." The News also quoted Suthers, who said, "Colorado courts already are accountable to the law and the constitution. ... They shouldn't be held accountable to politicians and campaigns."

In addition, an August 10 AP article cited objections raised by Denver attorney John Moye, the chairman of the opposition organization Citizens to Protect Colorado Courts:

Opponents include Attorney General John Suthers, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, the League of Women Voters, the Colorado Judicial Institute and Colorado Common Cause.

Denver attorney John Moye, chairman of Citizens to Protect Colorado Courts, said the proposal would deprive the judicial system of 185 years of experience. He said the current system, under which the governor appoints judges who must stand for retention by voters every eight years and justices who must stand for retention every 10 years, works well.

From Ashby's August 11 Pueblo Chieftain article, "Judges term-limits question qualifies for November ballot":

Currently, justices serve terms of 10 years before they are up for retention votes. Appeals court judges serve eight-year terms before voters get a chance to see if they want to retain them in office.

Republican John Andrews, a former Senate president and head of the group that got the measure onto the ballot, said the limits are needed to "rein in activist judges and take back our courts."

His petition drive to get the judicial term-limit question on the ballot had turned in 109,426 signatures earlier this month, even though they only needed 67,829 to get the measure on the ballot.

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