Do you ever get that summons to jury duty and not want to serve? Is it because it inconveniences your daily routine, because you don’t want to sit in a stale room for 4 hours hoping not to hear your number called or is it because you think justice as it is administered in the District of Columbia seems undemocratic? Although I feel the first two feelings when I get that summons it’s the third reason that really makes me not want to serve.
The Home Rule Act established a Judicial Nomination Commission (JNC) for the District which recommends judicial appointees for the President to nominate and have confirmed by the Senate. The District does have a say and voice in the commission but it’s limited with the mayor selecting 2 people to the JNC and the council one person. The President appoints one person, the DC Bar 2 people, and the chief Judge appoints one person. That means 3 appointees to the JNC by District elected officials and 4 by non-District elected officials. So although the JNC is supposed to look democratic, it’s not, it’s a judicial version of Home Rule (yes, it’s in the Home Rule Act so this shouldn’t be a surprise) which means it exists under a veil of democracy but it’s not democratic.
So the first step to becoming a judge in DC is to have a commission made up of a minority of people appointed by DC elected officials recommend you to the President (yep, the person at 1600 Penn. Ave.). Shouldn’t judicial nominations to the District’s Superior Court come from the mayor and go to the City Council for advice and consent? Not under Home Rule. The JNC sends the recommendation to the President who then sends it to the Senate (yes, that Senate that has 100 members from the 50 states and not one DC elected official among them). So our local courts are still controlled by folks not from here and who don’t really care about DC.
I’m not trying to say that the JNC is filled with bad people, or that the President is bad or even the Senate but the judicial system set up under Home Rule is anti-democratic. We should be a state so we can act like a state and handle our judiciary the same way the states do. The Mayor (Governor) should nominate judges and then the Council (State Legislature) should review and either accept or reject the nomination to the District’s Courts.
Under Home Rule the court system is nothing more than a colonial remnant where the President and the Senate pretend to be our benevolent overseers. We need statehood to change this. We need statehood to empower ourselves and control our courts. We need statehood so that home rule is a full-feldged reality and not just a title to appease us.