The JNC has fifteen members who serve without compensation. Only six of the members may be lawyers. The six lawyer members are elected from six districts of the state by all of the attorneys residing or practicing in that region. Nine members are non-lawyers. Six of the non-lawyers are appointed by the Governor, one from each of the districts. Of the six members named by the Governor, not more than three can belong to any one political party and none can have a lawyer from any state in their immediate family.
One of the three remaining non-lawyers is appointed by the Senate President Pro Tempore, one is appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one is selected by the other members of the JNC. Of these three members, not more than two can be from the same political party.
The JNC was designed to be as free from partisan influence as possible and to allow litigants to be assured that the judge hearing their case would not be biased or beholden to either party or to an industry or special interest group. It has fulfilled that goal.
Senate Bill 1988 seeks to change the composition of the JNC by having the six lawyers on the JNC that are currently elected by their peers on a written ballot, instead, appointed in a purely political manner by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore. Fortunately, a statewide outcry with calls and emails to the Capitol stopped the Bill from progressing out of the House Judiciary Committee for the time being.
However, proponents of the change have inserted the language politicizing the process into Senate Joint Resolution 21 and passed it out of the House Rules Committee by a 6-1 vote. While the breach created by SB1988 has been plugged, citizens must keep their eye on it and also pay heed to SJR21.