Judicial watchdog shouldn’t be scrapped because it ruffles feathers

On Nov. 8, Georgia voters should reject ballot measure that would take bite out of judicial oversight

Since 1972, established by a voter approved constitutional amendment, the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) has operated fairly independently to make sure the public is served well by its courts. Two years ago Georgia First Amendment Foundation (GFAF) honored the JQC for an opinion that discouraged judges who would bar the public from courtrooms.

Julius Suber, SPJ Georgia Board Member
Julius Suber, SPJ Georgia Board Member

In its 44 years in history, the JQC has barked, bitten, stepped on toes and ruffled feathers. Now some “unhappy” members in the state’s legislature want sole control and they have placed a constitutional amendment on November’s ballot designed to scrap the JQC, which is currently comprised of members selected by the Governor, the state Supreme Court and the Georgia Bar Association, and operates under the state Supreme Court. To be clear, the state legislature is not known exactly for being, inclusive, open, nor transparent.

As GFAF Founder Hyde Post recently wrote:

In recent years, the strong trend at the General Assembly has been toward more government secrecy, not less. (The Legislature has always exempted itself from the Open Meetings Act and Open Records Act.)

The JQC has not been without internal challenges of its own. Some issues have been highly publicized, but throughout, the JQC has sided with and maintained a philosophy which concluded: “There are very few reasons for closing courtrooms to the public.”

So, what would happen to the idea of transparency into the courts given the predisposition of the Legislature, say, if the unhappy lawmakers get their way?

The Society of Professional Journalists agrees with our friends at GFAF that “less transparency” and the initiative to abolish the JQC are bad ideas. By definition, watchdogs ruffle feathers.

— Jay Suber, SPJ Georgia board member


One Comment Add yours

  1. Ralph Garner says:

    I share the position of the SPJ/GA and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation that the surrender of the JQC to the oversight of the legislature makes no good sense — particularly when the motives and history of some who are pressing for the change are examined.

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