You may or may not have heard of an outfit that calls itself Clear the Bench. It tried its damnedest to get rid of first four, then three, Colorado Supreme Court justices.
Clear the Bench was formed by those who didn’t like certain decisions made by the Colorado Supreme Court because those decisions interfered with the objectives of their favored special interests. In retaliation, Clear the Bench tried to convince the public that Justices Michael Bender, Alex Martinez, Nancy Rice and then-Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey needed to be thrown off the Court.
Mary Mullarkey resigned her position before the election, leaving Governor Bill Ritter to appoint her successor. That left Bender, Martinez and Rice to be targeted.
Colorado justices and judges are not intended to be political positions so they technically “do not run for office.” However, they must periodically appear on the ballot for a “yes” or “no” vote on retention. Such was the case on the November 2010 ballot.
Even with a big push to Republican voters, Clear the Bench failed to get rid of these judges. In fact, they didn’t even come close. The public retained all three justices by approximately 60% in each case.
The endorsements of Clear the Bench’s intentions reads like a who’s who of Colorado Republicans and its print and radio mouthpieces. The allegations that the targeted justices have violated the Colorado Constitution ring as hollow here as the rants that are made by national Republicans claiming all manner of U.S. Constitutional violations.
Since the justices in question have been retained for the next ten years, we have probably heard the last of the organization known as Clear the Bench. But Republicans are nothing if not persistent. Their ideas will keep turning up like bad pennies, or e coli diseases.
One-time Colorado state Senate President John Andrews ran Amendment 40 in the 2006 election which tried to limit terms to “ten years and out” on the State Supreme Court and Appellate Courts. Voters defeated Andrews’ measure .
Andrews and his Limit the Judges tried again in 2008 but failed to get sufficient signatures by the deadline. That initiative targeted judges at all levels and would have limited them to three four-year terms.
Republicans certainly don’t want to wait another ten years to have a crack at the justices they detest. And the adage of three-times being the charmer doesn’t apply to Republican efforts at judicial term limits.
Enter stage right, Peter Coulter, a Vail, Colorado salvage lot owner. He has filed a ballot proposal with the Colorado legislature to reduce the terms of state Supreme Court justices from ten years to two years. Voters would have to retain or oust the justices every two years if the measure makes it to the ballot and is passed by the voters. The measure would also limit the chief justice to serving in that role for only two years at a time.
Coulter is a perfect minion because he has an anti-government ax to grind. Back in the 1990s, Coulter apparently had litigation that didn’t conclude as he wanted and is driven to “rein in the power” of the Supreme Court. In 2005 the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division found him guilty of violating the Colorado Water Quality Act for failure to have the required storm water drainage permit and for discharging pollutants into the South Platte River.
So let’s make a deal, John Andrews, Peter Coulter et al. We’ll pass your Colorado Supreme Court term limits if you’ll place the same term limits on Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas.