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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"We the People" Petition

I’ve submitted a petition at the White House’s “We the People: Your Voice in Our Government” website. Here it is:

Please disclose the process for issuing replacement commissions to federal judges

And here is why I submitted it and hope you will sign it:

Once in a while, a federal judge’s commission -- that big, official-looking piece of paper signed by the President that identifies the person appointed to a particular federal judgeship -- disappears. That should come as no surprise. It happens to documents of all sorts.

Missing judicial commissions are not a national crisis. Indeed, they do not appear to be a problem at all.

First of all, no one is going to lose their job over a lost commission, because it is not the possession of a commission that makes the judge. Remember Marbury v. Madison? Besides, in Marbury the Supreme Court said that a replacement commission is as valid as an original anyway.

Second, replacement commissions do get issued. Apparently they go missing often enough that the government has set up a system to handle them. And the system seems to be working just fine.

And that is the problem: it seems to work. But it is a secret system, so no one really knows. Practically speaking, this is not a big deal, and knowing about it is not likely to change much of anything. But the government should not keep secrets except when there is a darn good reason, and it is difficult (impossible?) to imagine a good reason to keep the replacement commissions process secret. So, the government should share this small and harmless thing with the governed.

Besides, it would be interesting to know how the government goes about deciding when a replacement commission should be issued, and how it deals with some of the interesting puzzles that must confront whoever is running the show. For example, what happens when a judge who was appointed by a now-dead President needs a replacement commission? How does the dead President’s signature get onto the replacement commission? Are judges allowed to have only one commission at a time, or are they allowed to have a spare, or one per office, or as many as they want? If a judge changes his or her name, does the judge receive a new commission? And so on.

I say a little bit more about this about midway through a short paper, but you don’t need to read it to understand why this petition is worth signing.

Posted by Ross Davies on February 26, 2014 at 09:05 PM | Permalink

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Posted by: Have you considered FOIA? | Mar 20, 2014 8:54:09 AM

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