2016 Election: Judicial Qualifications Commission

If passed, Amendment 3 would abolish the Judicial Qualifications Commission, an independent body created by the Georgia legislature in the 1970s to act as a watchdog agency against judicial misconduct, to replace it with a similar organization that would be governed by the State Legislature. If a citizen believes a judge has acted improperly, they can file a complaint with the JQC, and this independent body will investigate the allegation. 

Exact Language: Reforms and reestablishes the Judicial Qualifications Commission and provides for its composition, governance, and powers. House Resolution No. 1113

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to abolish the existing Judicial Qualifications Commission; require the General Assembly to create and provide by general law for the composition, manner of appointment, and governance of a new Judicial Qualifications Commission, with such commission having the power to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of judges; require the Judicial Qualifications Commission to have procedures that provide for due process of law and review by the Supreme Court of its advisory opinions; and allow the Judicial Qualifications Commission to be open to the public in some manner?

Since its 2007, nearly five dozen judges have resigned after JQC investigations.  The subject of one such JQC investigation, Johnnie Caldwell, Jr., formerly of the Griffin Judicial Circuit, left the bench in 2010 after facing accusations he made sexually suggestive comments to a female attorney.  He then won a seat in the State House two years later and co-sponsored two of the three JQC-related bills in the last session.

Currently, the Legislature has no say in who sits on the JQC. The State Bar has three picks, and the Supreme Court and the Governor get two each. Under the new configuration, the Legislature would have four picks, two each from the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor, who heads the Senate. The Supreme Court would still have its two picks and the governor would have one.

State Representative Wendell Willard who sponsored the amendment believes this change is necessary. “There is no oversight. There is no way of a check and balance regarding what they do work-wise,” Willard said. He has said judges deserve due process with the commission.

What a Yes or No Means:

A "yes" vote supports replacing the Judicial Qualifications Commission with a new commission designed and governed by the General Assembly.

A "no" vote opposes replacing the Judicial Qualifications Commission with a new commission designed and governed by the General Assembly, thereby keeping the current commission operational.

History of the Debate: The Judicial Qualifications Commission was created via a legislatively referred constitutional amendment in 1972. Sponsors of Amendment 3's corresponding legislation argue that the commission has lost credibility and therefore needs to be overhauled. 

Supporters:

The following legislators sponsored Amendment 3's corresponding legislation: Rep. Wendell Willard (R-51, House Judiciary Committee Chairman), Rep. Jan Jones (R-47), Rep. Jon Burns (R-159), Rep. John Meadows (R-5), Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. (R-131). It is of note that Wendell Willard is the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Opponents:

Georgians for Judicial Integrity is leading the opposition campaign for Amendment 3.

Former Judicial Qualifications Commission Chairman Lester Tate and Sen. Josh McKoon (R-29, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman) have also been prominent voices against Amendment 3. The Southern Center for Human Rights, Georgia First Amendment Foundation, and Georgia NAACP have also come out against it.

For More Information:

This American Life covers the JQC referendum process.

The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta breaks down each of the 4 constitutional amendments facing Georgia voters.

Click here to look up the address of your polling location and the example questions featured on your ballot.

WABE breaks down each of the four amendments.

A summary of each of the four amendments from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Creative Loafing’s Election Guide