Can'em or keep'em?

(Denver Post, Apr. 5) “We are a nation that has a government, not the other way around.” Reagan’s words speak defiance to statism, but they are only as true as we make them. The 2010 election is Coloradans’ chance. Supreme Court justices Mary Mullarkey, Michael Bender, Alex Martinez, and Nancy Rice will be up for another 10-year term. Poor stewards of the law since they last faced voters in 2000, all four deserve dismissal. Whether they’re retained or bounced will signal how much we cherish liberty. Voting judges into office ended here in the 1960s. Gubernatorial appointments replaced the unseemly spectacle of jurists soliciting campaign funds. The people can still vote judges out, however, and no court can overrule us. Nor need we explain why. In this, at least, we’re still sovereign.

Capriciousness isn't justified. “Prudence will dictate” avoidance of political changes “for light and transient causes,” the Declaration of Independence cautions. But terminating a dishonest judge is warranted – and so is termination for breach of trust. Mullarkey, Bender, Martinez, and Rice have failed their constitutional trust.

The justices up for renewal are poster kids for the “living constitution” racket of legislating from the bench in disregard of the written text. Under Chief Justice Mullarkey, as Vincent Carroll wrote after last month’s TABOR ruling, “the Colorado Supreme Court seems to think that it is… free to redefine words however it likes.” Let’s answer their abuse of judicial review with electoral review and retire them.

Is this a wild revolutionary idea as some lawyers and professors will claim? No, it’s an eminently conservative remedy of checking power with power and reminding the government it answers to the nation, not the other way around.

Termination wouldn’t deny the thorniness of such questions as when a tax vote is required, how citizens can petition to discourage illegal immigration, whether low-income scholarships are allowable in public schools, who draws congressional districts, or why a juror’s Bible should annul a murder sentence. It would simply express our displeasure with the four activist Supremes by ordering them replaced.

Replacement, should it occur, may itself be thorny. If defeated in November 2010, Mary Mullarkey (appointed in 1987), Michael Bender (1997), Alex Martinez (1998), and Nancy Rice (1998), Democrats all, would leave office in January 2011 and have their places filled by either Gov. Bill Ritter or his successor. Republicans voters are more likely to want the seats vacated if they foresee a new governor, but that’s no sure thing.

Amendment 40, the judicial term limits proposal I led in 2006, led early but sank as the GOP base saw Bob Beauprez’s gubernatorial hopes fading. Its mandate for appellate judges with over a decade of service to leave after 2008 – which would have opened up five of the seven Supreme Court seats – was less attractive to center-right voters when a Ritter victory seemed likely. Might that dynamic recur next year?

It depends on how energetic and well-funded the do-not-retain campaign against Justices Mullarkey, Bender, Martinez, and Rice turns out to be. California chief justice Rose Bird and two of her liberal colleagues were tossed in 1986 by voters outraged at their leniency to killers. That Colorado murder case I mentioned, the one with the Bible, may gain notoriety as the 2010 race heats up.

Plus there’s the March 16 decision allowing billions in higher taxes without voter approval, which Beauprez calls “the kind of blatant judicial activism that infuriates the citizenry and increases the call for voting against retention of wayward justices.”

A dismissal drive called Clear the Bench Colorado is already being organized by Arapahoe County activist Matt Arnold. Politicians of both parties will probably keep their distance while a nonpartisan “can’em or keep’em” contest determines the four justices’ fate. I say can’em.