Elected clerks aren’t the only politicians with an undue role in the judicial system. Usually, the eight-member Governor’s Council has seemed like a little-noticed vestige of colonial times, like a Latin motto. But now, thanks to a few councilors whose clownish antics have been an embarrassment to the state, it doesn’t seem quite so harmless. The council has become a deterrent to qualified judicial applicants who don’t want to run through this gantlet of grandstanding. It’s past time to abolish the body, and transfer its few responsibilities to the Legislature.
The council was set up by King Charles I and enshrined in the state constitution post-independence by John Adams. The panel envisioned by Adams had broad-reaching powers over the governor, analagous to a legislative body. Since then, however, its authority has shrunk to almost nothing. Approving judges and clerk magistrates is virtually all that’s left. The council meets only once a week, sometimes for just a few minutes.
This leaves it in an untenable state as a governing body. Members have so little to do that few good candidates run. Yet the council’s power over judicial nominees offers gadflies who happen to land on the body a chance to make mischief. Getting rid of the body won’t be easy; it too would require an amendment to the state constitution. But the Legislature should get the ball rolling now.