Voters in South Dakota decided they didn’t like the liberal leanings of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat, and voted him out of office in 2004. Then a year later they had their state legislators ban abortion.
Now comes the newest statement on morals and conservative values from the roughly 800,000 people who live between Nebraska and North Dakota, Minnesota and Wyoming: A South Dakota Judicial Accountability plan that would require judges to follow the Constitution.
No more “discoveries” like the U.S. Supreme Court’s revelation of a “right” to sodomy, such as was featured in a Texas case not too long ago, plan supporters say.
Bill Stegmeier, the organizer for what will be Amendment E on this November’s election ballot in South Dakota, said the idea comes from a national organization promoting accountability for judges, but his is a state effort that has just come together.
“Actually, we had the timing right. Look at all the news, even national news, about judges out of control,” Stegmeier told WND.
The plan is fairly simple: A constantly rotating panel of South Dakota residents chosen randomly from voter registration lists would serve as a “super” grand jury. Anyone with a complaint against a judge that isn’t resolved by the judiciary could come to the panel.
Panel members would have the power to review cases and circumstances, and, if they determine it’s appropriate, strip a judge of his immunity for his decisions in court.
The plan already has the support of nearly 47,000 voters, because that’s how many people signed Stegmeier’s petitions even though state officials confirmed it and stop counting at 33,456.
Not surprisingly, lawyers are campaigning hard against the proposal. But they appear to be facing an uphill battle.
“There’s been a poll taken by our opposition, and it leaked out,” Stegmeier said. “Three-to-one were in favor of the amendment.”
The plan doesn’t replace or eliminate any present procedure, it just adds another layer of protection for those who have been harmed by the system, he said.
And he believes it will be implemented smoothly.
“We don’t think there’s going to be a lot of chaos. Judges will start thinking about what they do, and ask, ‘Am I violating someone’s rights?'” Stegmeier said.
In 2004, voters chose Sen. John Thune, who campaigned on his conservatism, to replace Daschle, even though he had served as the Senate Majority Leader, a powerful position that could have been used to benefit the state.
Then in 2005, the Legislature banned abortion, although that has not been implemented because of challenges to the law, and it also will live or die in an initiative vote in November’s ballot.
It’s primarily at agriculture state, “not a big-money state by any stretch,” Stegmeier said. But residents appear to be willing to look at the issues of import, and go ahead with decisions.
The state presently has a judicial commission, which is made up of two judges, three lawyers and two appointees selected by state officials.
Stegmeier believes that large contributions to his opposition from those such as Citibank, an insurance lobby and law firms across the country are happening because there’s a real fear in the established system that if South Dakota’s plan works, other states will jump on board.
A national Judicial Accountability Initiative Law group is working to do just that. National organization founder Ron Branson seemed excited by the coming election in South Dakota.
“The wick has been lit and the explosion is forthcoming,” he said in an announcement confirming the issue would be on the ballot.
“The South Dakota Secretary of State has ceased counting the number of signatures turned in, saying that they have already reached the requisite number of 33,456 qualified signatures,” he wrote.
The South Dakota plan’s website details the proposal, including a couple of barbs sure to raise the concern of judges: It would be a three-strikes-your-out plan, with the potential for judges to lose not only their jobs but a part of their retirement pay. It also would be funded by deducting money from judges’ salaries.
It also empowers the super grand jury members to consider cases retroactively.
“Right now, there is no effective way to hold a judge accountable should he violate a person’s rights in ‘his’ courtroom,” the organization’s website promotes. “Amendment E will change that. A judge SHOULD be accountable should he violate a person’s rights, either on purpose or even by mistake.”
Those groups who have announced opposition range from the State Bar and governor to local school boards.
“It seems that a lot of people working for or with government … just don’t seem to want to be held accountable,” Stegmeier’s group said.
He said he expects the State Bar to spend $1 million or more to campaign against the plan.
Branson noted that there’s also been formal opposition to South Dakota’s plan from groups in Texas, California, Oregon, Canada, Iowa and New York.
One case cited as typical of situations that need attention, the national lobby said, surprisingly is on behalf of a former judge.
According to its web report, a former Brooklyn judge claims he’s being held against his wishes in a Bronx nursing home by a court order, while a court-appointed guardian is running his financial empire involving a number of different incomes.
“I’m gonna tear their asses up when I get out,” John Phillips, 82, told a reporter via tape recorder carried in to him by a friend, since he also is not allowed to get telephone calls.
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