Governor vetoes a bill to change Idaho Judicial Council

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

On Wednesday, Gov. Brad Little vetoed a bill that would have overhauled the way the Idaho Judicial Council recommends attorneys for judgeship in the state.

HB 782 narrowly made it through the Legislature this year after strong debate over whether it would grant the executive branch too much authority over the judiciary.
The Judicial Council is a nonpartisan council currently responsible for vetting and recommending attorneys for judgeship and handling and disciplinary action taken against judges. 

If HB 782 became law, it would have changed Judicial Council terms from 6 years to 4, allowed the governor to reject a slate of nominees, and added four members to the currently seven-member council.

In his veto letter, Little said he supported some aspects of the bill, “but I think it’s in Idaho’s best interest to spend more time properly vetting these changes with relevant stakeholders.”

Other changes would have included membership changes. Instead of council members being nominated by the board of commissioners of the Idaho State Bar with the consent of the Idaho Senate, the positions would be nominated by the Idaho Supreme Court and appointed by the governor with the consent of the Idaho Senate. 

Opponents of the bill say it was brought at the last minute, late in session, and it would be a significant change to the way judges are selected. 

Supporters say it would improve transparency, as the bill allows judge applicants to see survey comments which are solicited from Idaho State Bar members and the public. Under existing law, comments are withheld from judicial applicants. 

Some opponents took issue with the way the bill tied in judges’ salaries with overhauling the council. The bill would have increased judicial salaries had it been signed into law.

HB 782 passed the House in a 44-24 vote and the Senate in a 26-9 vote. To override the governor’s veto, each body would need a two-thirds vote in favor of the bill.

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, co-sponsored the bill and in a letter to House Speaker Scott Bedke on Wednesday, he did not support attempting to override the veto. 

“While H782 was the product of session-long negotiation and discussion, the two branches of government affected most by this legislation—the executive and judicial—have each communicated their disapproval of the legislation,” Chaney wrote. “As the branch least impacted by H782 I question the wisdom of forcing through a change over the objections of both of the other branches either through veto override or through a separate piece of legislation. Rather, I think it appropriate to pause, take a deep breath, and work collaboratively over the interim with our co-equal branches to be sure that we are modernizing the Council without upending the neutrality and independence of the judiciary.”

Instead, Chaney asked that the Speaker and Senate President Pro Tempore comply with the Idaho Supreme Court chief justice’s request to each nominate two people “to sit on a multi-disciplinary study group, or “blue ribbon commission,” to look at the issue of judicial recruitment, retention, and appointment more closely in the interim with the intention of making thoughtful, reflective recommendations.”

Earlier this month, the Idaho Supreme Court announced it will create a special committee on judicial recruitment and selection. The committee will examine ways to improve judicial recruitment in Idaho and concerns raised about the membership and processes of the Idaho Judicial Council. The Council plays a key role in vetting and recommending judges to fill vacancies outside of an election cycle, according to the court’s announcement.

<strong>Ruth Brown</strong> | Producer
Ruth Brown | Producer

Ruth Brown grew up in South Dakota and her first job out of college was covering the South Dakota Legislature. She’s since moved on to Idaho lawmakers. Brown spent 10 years working in print journalism, including newspapers such as the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press, where she’s covered everything from the correctional system to health care issues. She joined Idaho Reports in 2021 and looks forward to telling stories about how state policy can impact the lives of regular Idahoans.

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