Senate Democrats question Douglas’ court intentions

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(Host) There may be a fight in the Vermont Senate when Governor Jim Douglas nominates a candidate to fill the vacancy on the Vermont Supreme Court. Last week Douglas said he thought the Court went too far when it issued its landmark decisions on education reform and civil unions. Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch says Democrats in the Senate will strongly oppose any candidate who doesn’t support these two decisions.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Last week, the governor said judicial restraint is the top quality that he’s looking for in a candidate for the Supreme Court. Douglas told reporters he felt the Court had gone too far when it issued the Brigham decision – a decision that led to the passage of Act 60. And the governor said he felt the court might have usurped power from the Legislative branch of government when it handed down the Baker decision – a decision that led the passage of the Civil Union law.

The Vermont Senate must confirm any candidate proposed by the governor and Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch is very concerned by the governor’s recent comments:

(Welch) “If someone were appointed who is against civil rights for gays and lesbians or wanted to role back equal education opportunity for kids, I have a major problem with that. And I certainly hope it doesn’t come to the governor forwarding a person with those views, but I really don’t know what the governor does mean when he is suggesting in his criticism that he has problems with those unanimous decisions in our court. And I think the governor ought to tell us, frankly.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he has no litmus tests for potential candidates and the governor says he supports the recent changes that have been to Act 60:

(Douglas) “I did not ask any candidates in the first round about specific cases that have been decided by the Supreme Court nor will I in the future. I don’t think it’s appropriate to get into specifics. I certainly interviewed candidates asking about their judicial philosophy in general and their experience, whether on the court or off. But to revisit specific cases of the Supreme Court I don’t think is useful.”

(Kinzel) Douglas has asked the Judicial Nominating Board to completely reopen its search – a move that would allow new candidates to apply for the position. The Board plans to meet on Wednesday to consider the governor’s request.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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