COLORADO JUDICIAL INSTITUTE POLICY
Policy Title: Guidelines for Taking Action on Public Policy Issues
Responsible Officer: Chair of the Board and Chair of the Education and Outreach Committee
Effective Date: May 2018
Policy: CJI will promulgate guidelines describing when it is appropriate for CJI to take action on public policy issues and the process by which such as determination will be made.
Scope: This policy applies to the directors and staff of CJI.
The Colorado Judicial Institute will promulgate guidelines describing when it is appropriate for CJI to take action on public policy issues and the process by which such as determination will be made.
II. INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
The Colorado Judicial Institute (CJI), founded in 1979, is a Colorado nonpartisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. A majority of the members of the CJI Board of Directors (CJI Board) are non-attorneys. CJI’s Board members also include attorneys and actively-serving Colorado judges and justices.
CJI’s initial mission was to protect and improve Colorado’s judicial merit selection system, adopted by Colorado voters through a 1966 constitutional amendment, and to educate the public about that system. However, since then CJI’s focus has expanded. CJI’s current mission is:
- to preserve and enhance the fairness, impartiality, and excellence of Colorado’s courts;
- to further public understanding of the Colorado judicial system; and
- to ensure that the courts meet the needs of the people.
[Ed.'s note: CJI's mission was officially revised in July 2022. See the revised version here.]
While CJI’s initial focus was on Colorado’s state court system, its expanded mission encompasses issues pertaining to Colorado’s federal as well as state judiciary. In carrying out its mission, CJI supports public education about the judiciary, believing that an educated public is crucial to supporting judicial impartiality as a component of the separation of powers.
CJI has a unique status as a nonpartisan organization. CJI has taken positions on public policy issues including ballot and legislative measures, regardless of the partisan political alignment of proponents and opponents of those issues, where the importance of the issue to fulfillment of CJI’s mission warranted CJI action despite the risk of potential partisan perception.
For example, in 2006 CJI actively opposed Amendment 40, an initiative that would have imposed term limits on Colorado appellate judges. In 2014, CJI’s Board adopted a resolution opposing proposed Colorado ballot measures that would have made judges subject to recall elections, required a two-thirds vote to retain judges, and altered the system for handling disciplinary complaints against judges. In 2016, CJI representatives addressed issues on Colorado’s judicial performance evaluation system, by providing testimony against proposed legislation that would have adversely affected the system; submitting comments at a public hearing conducted by the Colorado Commission on Judicial Performance; and writing letters to the Denver Post editor opposing an op-ed article that was critical of the system.
In 2017, CJI Board members vigorously debated whether CJI should take action on public policy issues including comments critical of federal judges made by President Trump. During that debate, it became apparent that CJI should adopt written guidance clarifying the circumstances under which CJI should take action on issues of concern that could impact Colorado’s fair and impartial judiciary. This guidance document followed.
III. CRITERIA FOR CJI BOARD ACTION
The CJI Board shall consider criteria including the following in determining whether CJI should take action on public policy issues.
1. Source of the issue
What is the source of the issue? Is it proposed Colorado legislation, a proposed Colorado ballot measure, or a statement in a state or local publication, or does it have a national source? While Colorado-sourced issues may more urgently suggest a need for CJI action, nationally-based issues affecting Colorado’s fair and impartial judiciary may also warrant action.
2. Nature of the issue
What is the nature of the issue? Does it have the reasonable potential to:
- threaten Colorado’s fair, impartial, and independent judiciary, and/or weaken the role of individual judges;
- jeopardize Colorado’s merit system of selecting, retaining, evaluating, and/or disciplining judges;
- inject partisan politics into Colorado’s judicial merit system;
- deter qualified candidates from applying to serve as Colorado judges;
- impugn the public’s trust and confidence in the Colorado judiciary; and/or
- otherwise corrode the rule of law in Colorado?
3. Colorado impact of the issue
Does the issue have the reasonable potential to cause adverse effects within Colorado, such as by constituting a specific threat to Colorado’s judges or judicial system, emboldening Colorado-based opponents of a fair and impartial judiciary, and/or directly and negatively impacting the Colorado judiciary?
4. Perception of CJI’s involvement in the issue
Could CJI action on the issue reasonably be perceived as partisan in nature, given the partisan affiliations of others who might have taken positions on the issue, including where positions on the issue tend to have partisan alignment? Does the importance of the issue to fulfillment of CJI’s mission warrant CJI action despite the risk of potential partisan perception?
5. Action by other organizations on the issue, and partner opportunities
What action, if any, have other organizations taken on the issue, including the Colorado Bar Association and other Colorado and national organizations that support a fair and impartial judiciary, such as the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System and the American Bar Association? Are there opportunities for CJI to partner with other organizations in addressing the issue?
6. Effectiveness of CJI’s addressing the issue
If CJI’s Board decided CJI should take action on the issue, could CJI’s action take some meaningful form, such as a statement through newspapers, social media, CJI publications, or other platforms likely to reach and potentially influence the public? Would such action be timely and impactful, given the nature of the issue? Is there a significant risk that CJI action would strengthen the position of adversaries of a fair and impartial judiciary rather than advancing CJI’s mission?
IV. PROCESS FOR CJI ACTION ON PUBLIC POLICY ISSUES
Based on the above criteria, the CJI Education and Outreach Committee shall monitor public policy developments that may warrant CJI action. The Education and Outreach Committee Chair and Committee members, and/or other members of the CJI Board, may identify public policy issues for potential action by the CJI Board. Any such issue and proposed action shall ordinarily be considered by the CJI Executive Committee before being considered by the CJI Board, but may be brought directly to the CJI Board, including through a special meeting, where circumstances necessitate such a procedure for an appropriate response to the issue.
V. CJI RESPONSE OTHER THAN THROUGH CJI BOARD ACTION
If under the above criteria a public policy issue warrants action on behalf of CJI other than through a CJI Board resolution or other action by the CJI Board, including where an appropriate response would be required more quickly than could be accomplished by action of the CJI Board, the CJI Executive Committee may direct such action. This could include, for example, coordinating submission of letters to the editor by CJI representatives in response to a newspaper op-ed piece. The CJI Board shall be informed of such action after it is taken.
However, unless the procedure outlined in this paragraph is followed, or the CJI Board has taken action under Section II above, individual CJI board members should not identify themselves as speaking on behalf of CJI in providing letters to the editor or making other public statements on public policy issues, unless authorized to do so by the CJI Chair or CJI Chair’s designee, and/or by the CJI Executive Committee.