First Circuit Judge Todd Eddins, Gov. David Ige’s nominee for the Hawaii Supreme Court, made it through the first round of confirmation hearings in front of state senators Monday.
What emerged after two-and-a-half hours of questioning is a snapshot of a judge who is open to new ideas as well as criticism, who takes issue with the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative-leaning philosophies, and who doesn’t plan on creating laws from a perch on the state’s highest court.
Eddins’ first confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee went relatively smoothly. Most of those who testified before the seven-member panel, chaired by Sen. Karl Rhoads, supported the judge. And the lawmakers who have in the past butted heads with the Judiciary seemed satisfied with most of Eddins’ responses to their questions.
The committee plans to vote on Eddins’ confirmation Wednesday, and the 25-member Senate expects to take up his confirmation Thursday. The Senate has until Friday to vote one way or another, or Eddins automatically becomes an associate justice because of deadlines set in the state constitution.
Among Eddins’ supporters was the Hawaii State Bar Association, which rated him qualified.
Gregory Frey, the association president, told lawmakers that Eddins would be an “absolute shining star on our highest court.”
“He is a free thinker,” Frey said. “He is leveraged by nobody except the law and what he believes is correct under the law.”
Eddins faced rounds of questions from the Judiciary Committee. Senators dug into his philosophy and how he might go about ruling in criminal and civil cases, what he thinks about the separation of powers between the three branches of government, and his thoughts on constitutional rights, including Native Hawaiian rights.
He said he believes the court should continue making progress in getting help to individuals with mental illness or those who suffer from substance abuse disorders. And he also thinks that court decisions from the time of the Hawaiian Kingdom should be included in decision-making if they are relevant to a particular case.
He pointed to recent court rulings as well as those made during former Chief Justice William Richardson’s time on the court that helped to protect natural resources.
Eddins spoke highly of former Associate Justice Richard Pollack, who he would be replacing.
In his responses to some of the senators’ questions, Eddins took aim at the U.S. Supreme Court.
He doesn’t subscribe to originalism, the judicial philosophy held by the high court’s conservative majority that the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted in the same way it was when it was written.
“It’s a silly way to interpret the law,” Eddins said.
He later added that the U.S. Supreme Court “has been quite activist” with its rulings, like with the Citizens United decision that altered campaign finance laws.
Regarding health care, Eddins believes Hawaii’s Prepaid Health Care Act, a landmark law from 1975 that requires employers to provide health coverage, should be able to withstand any legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act that make it to the high court.
“I think our Prepaid Health Care Act stands alone, and that there is likely no impact should the U.S. Supreme Court engage in further judicial activism,” Eddins said.
Repeal of the ACA, or Obamacare, has been a goal of conservatives, including President Donald Trump. Among other issues like abortion rights, it figured heavily in the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
If confirmed, Eddins doesn’t seem keen on trying to create laws from the bench.
“My philosophy in that area is judicial restraint,” Eddins told the panel. “We, the Judiciary, should not be going head to head with the legislative and executive branches over certain matters.”
While Eddins was praised by many who wrote in support of his nomination, he was criticized by one woman, the mother of a sexual assault victim whose alleged abuser spent just six days in jail because of a plea deal that passed through Eddins’ court.
Lawmakers spent about an hour drilling into that case and dug into the weeds on the rules and procedures surrounding plea agreements.
The woman, Maria Roth-Tijerina, said that the prosecutors had forced her to approve the plea deal. She told the senators that she lodged complaints with the prosecutor’s office, and also raised her concerns about Eddins with the HSBA but got no response.
Frey, the association president, said a panel that reviewed Eddins’ nomination was aware of the concerns but did not investigate them further.
Eddins, a former defense attorney, maintained that striking the plea deal would have meant complicating the case going forward, and potentially lead to a double jeopardy situation for the defendant.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell