Give Me the Most Qualified Ė Period!

Give Me the Most Qualified Ė Period!

© David Burton 2024

Qualified
 


     On 7 February 2024, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey nominated her former romantic partner, with whom she shared a home for several years, to the state supreme court. If approved, Massachusetts Appeals Court Associate Justice Gabrielle R. Wolohojian would serve as an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. She would fill a seat left vacant by Justice David Lowy.
     "There is no one more qualified or more well-prepared to join the SJC than Justice Wolohojian. Iím proud of that nomination, and Iím proud of nominating someone who is so deserving and so qualified. It is what the commonwealth deserves," Healey told reporters during a press conference addressing the matter.
     Healey, the first woman and first open member of the LGBTQ community to be elected governor of the state, defended her choice, given her personal history with Wolohojian.
     "Of course, I had a personal relationship with Judge Wolohojian for many years, so I happen to also know something about her character and her integrity and the kind of person she is," Healey, a Democrat, stated.
     Healey said Wolohojian received the unanimous recommendation of the state's Supreme Judicial Nominating Commission. She had to go before the Governor's Council, an eight-member board that reviews and approve judicial nominations for final approval.
     Wolohojian, 63, wouldn't have to recuse herself from cases involving Healey's administration because she already presides over matter involving state agencies and the executive office, the governor said.
     However, some disagreed with the nomination. "It is highly inappropriate for the governor to nominate to Massachusettsí highest court an individual with whom she had a long-term romantic relationship in the past," said Amy Carnevale, chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party. "This nomination clearly demonstrates a lack of accountability inherent in one-party rule."[1]

     Letís not forget that Wolohojian Ďs nomination by Healey exemplifies the long-standing political tradition of selecting candidates known to the nominator for judicial and other appointed positions. The overriding consideration in deciding whether or not to appoint Wolohojian to the Massachusetts Supreme Court must be whether or not she is highly qualified! In this regard, we have the following.

     Justice Wolohojian brings over three decades of broad trial and appellate experience, including sixteen years on the Appeals Court. Her work is widely respected by members of the bench and bar, and she has an exceptional understanding of the law and a strong commitment to the administration of justice.
     Gabrielle Wolohojian was appointed to the Appeals Court in February 2008. Since her appointment, she has sat on over 2,700 appeals and authored over 900 decisions. She serves as the Chair of the Supreme Judicial Courtís Advisory Committees on the Rules of Appellate Procedure, and the Chair of the Appeals Courtís Committees on Judicial Mentoring and Training, Education, Policies and Practices, and En Banc Rehearings. Justice Wolohojian is a regular speaker on appellate justice.[2]

     During the 16 years that Gabrielle Wolohojian served on the state appeals court, nobody publicly questioned her ethics! ďThere never was a question of her integrity raised.Ē[3]

     Gabrielle Wolohojian would thus appear to be quite highly qualified to be appointed to be a Justice on the Supreme Court of Massachusetts!

     Should highly qualified individuals be disqualified from holding public office simply because they have or have had a relationship with the person recommending them for the position? I sincerely hope not! Instead, letís get the most qualified person for the position Ė PERIOD!

     Letís remember that while Governor Healey has nominated Judge Wolohojian to be a Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice, the governor does not make the appointment. That is done by a supposedly unbiased eight-member Governor's Council that should not take the nomineeís and governorís personal relationships into account. What should be considered are the nomineeís qualifications Ė nothing more.

     No qualified person should be barred from a government position because of his/her relationship with another government employee or official unless that relationship can unfairly prejudice that personís performance of his/her official duties.

     No government employee or official should be prevented from nominating an individual for a government position because of that individualís relationship with that government employee or official unless that relationship can prejudice that individualís performance of his/her official duties.

     Being a family member or having a personal relationship with a government official shouldnít automatically disqualify a person from holding a government position. While itís true that nepotism and favoritism can be problematic, there are instances where family members have successfully served in government roles based on their qualifications, experience, and merit.
     However, itís essential to maintain transparency, avoid conflicts of interest, and ensure that appointments are made based on competence rather than solely on familial connections. Meritocracy should be the guiding principle in government appointments, regardless of whether someone is related to an existing official or not.
     Ultimately, the assessment of an individualís suitability for a government position should be based on their qualifications, track record, and commitment to public service. [4]

     The bestowal of patronage by public officers in appointing others to positions by reason of blood or marital relationship is known as nepotism. Several states restrict nepotism by expressly prohibiting public officials from hiring relatives. In states where the practice is not explicitly prohibited, conflict-of-interest laws may still allow room for ethics commissions or legislatures to create rules prohibiting nepotism. Still, the overriding criteria should and must be whether or not the appointment best serves the public interest, i.e., is the appointee qualified to perform the duties of the office in which he/she will serve? Is the appointee better qualified than other applicants?

     Appointing or nominating relatives to government posts is not something unheard of. U.S. presidents have been doing just this ever since our country was founded.

     John Adams the 2nd U.S. president appointed his son, John Quincy Adams, as the U.S. Minister to Prussia. James Madison, the 4th president appointed his cousin, William Madison, as the Secretary of State. James Monroe: The 5th president appointed his nephew, Samuel L. Gouverneur, as the Private Secretary to the President. Andrew Jackson, the 7th president appointed his nephew, Andrew Jackson Donelson, as the Private Secretary to the President. John Tyler, the 10th president appointed his son, Robert Tyler, as the Private Secretary to the President. James Buchanan, the 15th president appointed his niece, Harriet Lane, as the Official White House Hostess. Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president appointed his brother-in-law, Abel Rathbone Corbin, as the Collector of the Port of New York.
     However, itís essential to note that legal restrictions now exist to prevent such appointments. The Federal Anti-Nepotism Statute prohibits public officials from appointing relatives to federal government jobs. This statute ensured that appointments were based on merit rather than familial connections.[5]

     Does this federal Anti-Nepotism Statute deprive the public of the highly qualified, the best and brightest? Does it go too far in a misguided attempt to protect the public from corruption?
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References:

  1. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey nominates former romantic partner to state's high court, Louis Casiano, FOX News,
    9 February 2024.
  2. Governor Healey Nominates Appeals Court Associate Justice Gabrielle R. Wolohojian to Supreme Judicial Court, www.mass.gov/news, 7 February 2024.
  3. Is concern for judicial ethics all thatís driving the concern over Healeyís pick for the high court?, Joan Vennochi,
    Boston Globe, 16 February 2024.
  4. being a family member doesn't disqualify a person from taking on a government position, Copilot,
    Accessed 9 February 2024.
  5. Appointing Family Members to Government Posts, BING Copilot, Accessed 11 February 2024.

 
  29 February 2024 {Article 613; Politics_88}    
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