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State of Oregon

History of Reform Efforts: Oregon

Unsuccessful Reform Efforts

Voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment calling for merit selection of judges.

Voters rejected a measure that would have allowed the governor to appoint the chief justice.

Voters rejected two measures relating to the selection of judges. The first measure would have given voters a "none of the above" option when voting for judges and would have required mid-term judicial appointees to run for election at the next available election, rather than at the next general election. The second would have provided for the election of appellate judges from geographic districts rather than statewide. Both measures were placed on the ballot through initiative petitions and were intended to make judges more accountable. The push for these initiatives was motivated by a series of controversial court rulings reversing several voter-approved initiatives and by the release in 2000 of a death row inmate who, according to the court, had been denied the right to a speedy trial. Initiatives struck down by the Oregon Supreme Court included an omnibus measure that made various changes to the criminal justice process, such as allowing less-than-unanimous murder verdicts, limiting pretrial release, and establishing rights for crime victims, and a measure that imposed term limits for legislators and statewide officials.

The initiative petition for a "none of the above" ballot option was sponsored by a tax reform advocate and was intended to allow voters to express their displeasure in races where judicial candidates ran unopposed. The drive for district-based elections was led by Crime Victims United, a group that had supported the omnibus crime measure struck down by the court in 1998. According to supporters, district-based elections would ensure that perspectives from all areas of the state were represented on the appellate courts. Opposition to both measures was uniform and included such diverse organizations as unions, senior citizens groups, many judges and former judges, former governors, conservationist and land use groups, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, the Oregon State Bar, and the League of Women Voters of Oregon. The "none of the above" measure was rejected by a 44-56 margin, while the district-based elections measure failed by a more narrow margin of 49-51.

For the second time in four years, voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required judges of the supreme court and court of appeals to be elected by district.