Rigorous Senate review of nominee is essential
The nomination of Katherine Leonard to serve as a judge of the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals has again focused attention on the Hawaii state Senate's duty to "advise and consent"
on the governor's nominees for judicial posts. In past cases, questions of the nominees' fitness to serve have led some to ask whether the process is overly negative, and how such individuals of apparently high qualifications would not receive immediate and unanimous approval. However, the nature of the Senate's legal and constitutional duty requires no less than a deep and complete consideration of the nominee's history. In cases where the nomination is to a panel of judges, it also is prudent to look at the collective experience and makeup of the group.
Advise and consent is a vital part of our constitutional system of checks and balances. It ensures that the governor's appointments are not made for purely partisan or personal reasons, and that the individuals who attain these offices are well suited to their positions. In order to preserve the system and protect the integrity of our courts, the Senate must take its responsibility seriously.
The governor selects judicial nominees from a list provided by the Judicial Selection Commission, which reviews the qualifications of all judicial applicants. In most cases, the nominee passes Senate confirmation without incident. In some cases, however, a nominee presents some aspect of history, personality or practice that raises concerns about his or her suitability for the position. When concerns become apparent, it is the Senate's responsibility to look even more closely at the nominee and to pose appropriate questions as to the level and relevance of those concerns.
The Senate's review of nominees to appellate courts carries additional weight because these courts consider some of the community's most important and most challenging cases. Precedents set by appellate cases become a part of the larger body of Hawaii law, and find application in numerous other matters that come before the lower courts; the concern is not solely with the individual matter before the court, but also a continuing line of cases into the future. Additionally, under the appellate court system now in place in Hawaii, the Intermediate Court of Appeals considers the bulk of appellate cases.
These factors combine to make our consideration of nominees to the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals exceptionally important. The decisions of these judges will have a tremendous impact on our lives, our business climate and our government. Our review must be thorough, our actions thoughtful and deliberate.
Committee chairmen, committee members and senators in general find no pleasure in raising questions about a nominee's qualifications, competence or character. It isn't easy, but it is sometimes necessary. Avoiding the difficult task of thorough review -- simply rubber-stamping the governor's choices -- would compromise the integrity of the entire process and rob the Senate, the public and our state government of this vital constitutional protection.
The fact that the Judicial Selection Commission has included Leonard on the list provided to the governor, and that the governor has placed her nomination before the Senate, speaks to her basic qualifications to serve. The Judiciary and Labor Committee has reviewed and heard testimony on her record and qualifications. Most members of the Senate also have conducted their own individual due diligence and in many cases met personally with Leonard. On Tuesday we will further review and discuss the committee's report and recommendation, and cast our final votes on the nomination.
I am confident that this process works as it should, and I remain committed to respecting, preserving and fulfilling this vital constitutional function.
Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) is state Senate majority leader.