Amendment E sparks debate
October 11, 2006
SIOUX FALLS (AP) - Disagreement continues
on the effects of a South Dakota ballot measure that
supporters claim is intended to rein in judges who go
overboard and violate people's rights.
The proposed constitutional change in
Amendment E would apply only to judges, supporters said
Monday night at a debate in Sioux Falls.
But opponents said it is so broad that it will also apply to
elected officials, such as members of school boards and
county commissions. They also say that the proposal is so
broad it would allow jurors to be fined or jailed.
"Anyone shielded by judicial immunity becomes a judge within
the meaning of the initiative. That's what the drafter
said," opponent Tom Barnett said.
Currently, judges have immunity from lawsuits over their
Supporter Jake Hanes said the only way to hold judges
accountable is through the Judicial Review Commission.
"Everyone should be accountable. I mean, nobody is above the
law, and judges in particular, legislating from the bench;
there is no way to hold them accountable aside from the
ineffective Judicial Qualifications Commission," Hanes said.
If a judge's assets were threatened, the judge would think
twice about violating someone's rights, he said.
"They go after a judge's assets because it's about
retribution," Barnett countered.
Language in the Judicial Accountability Initiative Law says
decision-makers could be stripped of insurance coverage and
as much as one-half of
retirement benefits, Barnett said, adding that the motive is
The attorney general's ballot explanation says the amendment
calls for the appointment of 13 special grand jurors who
would determine if those who make judicial decisions broke
rules that are set by the special grand jury. The
explanation defines those as making judicial decisions as
prosecutors, judges and citizens serving on juries, school
boards, city councils, county commissions and other boards.
"Who are we going to get to serve on our school boards, our
city councils, if their homes and businesses are at risk?"
Barnett said. "Worse yet, they have the choice to run for
office, but our jurors don't have a choice. They're
compelled to serve and Amendment E reaches jurors. We think
The proposal is a bad idea to add to the constitution,
University of South Dakota Law School professor Chris Hutton
said. The special grand jury would tell citizens what the
law and facts are, she said.
"People are attempting to do an end-run around the system by
saying instead 'we're going to have this group behind closed
doors decide the laws and facts, not the Legislature and the
judges who are implementing the law,'" she said.
Bob Kolbe, Minnehaha County Commission chairman, said if
people don't like his decisions, they can vote against him.
"If they would sue me personally, that would leave me
quaking in my boots," he said. "I don't know if I would want