The proposal called the Judicial Budget Oversight Amendment, or “Amendment 2” on this year’s ballot, raises some legitimate concerns about the independence of West Virginia’s judicial branch by giving control of the state’s judicial budget to the Legislature.
But the financial indiscretions committed by the current members of the state Supreme Court are so obviously in need of correction (and prevention) that it’s practically impossible to argue against the need for this amendment.
Current candidates for the Supreme Court say they’re for the amendment, even as they worry that lawmakers could retaliate with budget cuts for a ruling lawmakers don’t like. Certainly, that kind of abuse of power by legislators is possible. However, lawmakers face the voters more frequently than do Supreme Court justices, who must, necessarily, be insulated from the widest swings of public opinion to be a good, consistent court, to sometimes deliver just, but unpopular, rulings.
It’s important to remember, though, that the judicial budget doesn’t affect just the five Supreme Court justices. It covers all state courts in West Virginia, including circuit, family and magistrate courts in all counties.
Will Thompson, a circuit judge in Boone County (and one of our choices for the Supreme Court), lamented having to shut down programs and lay off county courthouse staff while justices were renovating offices and buying couches that cost more than many new cars.
That’s the sort of behavior that, in 20 years, this amendment might prevent.
Having the Legislature oversee the judicial branch’s budget is the norm across the country. If lawmakers don’t use that power to punish the court for its decisions, it makes sense for West Virginia to join those other states. If lawmakers do abuse their power, it makes sense for voters to punish them. We encourage a vigilant vote “for” Amendment 2.