South Dakota, Amendment E, Bill Stegmeier, Bum Idea

By October 11, 2006Briefly Legal

Bill Stegmeier, the sponsor of Amendment E in South Dakota, chides us about the last post on the initiated measure meant to punish judges for their excesses. And he has a point. He comments:

Carter Wood says:

“Amendment E, known in the vernacular as Jail4Justices. This is an initiative that holds judges accountable by allowing a statewide grand jury to review their decisions, and punish these judges personally for decisions they reject.”

Do some research before you flap off your big mouth and keyboard Wood. South Dakota Amendment E is NOT known as “Jail4Justices.” Visit Amendment E’s official website at and see if you can find even one reference to “Jail4Justices.” You won’t. Futhermore, Amendment E has nothing to do with the judge’s decision. It has everything to do with the judge’s courtrooom procedure. Had you taken the time to actually read the Amendment, Section 2. lays out in easy to understand English just what South Dakota judges will be held accountable for. Here it is Wood:

Immunity. No immunity shall extend to any judge of this State for any deliberate violation of law, fraud or conspiracy, intentional violation of due process of law, deliberate disregard of material facts, judicial acts without jurisdiction, blocking of a lawful conclusion of a case, or any deliberate violation of the Constitutions of South Dakota or the United States, notwithstanding Common Law, or any other contrary statute.

Wood, do you read anything in Section 2. that has to do with the judge’s “decision?”

To be continued.

Our thoughts below. Or, er, my thoughts below.

We’ll eschew the editorial we, here. I, me, Carter Wood, got the name of the initiative wrong. And for that, I’m sorry. The initiated measure is known as the “Judicial Accountability Amendment.” The national movement — and oh, yes, it’s a national movement — is promoted by a pro-Amendment E website “Jail4Judges.” (See here.) In the vernacular.

Whatever its name, it’s still gawdawful, the embodiment of resentment as public policy. (Note a tone of resentment in Mr. Stegmeier’s response?) The measure embraces the kind of policy that would invite elected officials to avoid making any kind of decision that could get him or her sued. If a judge, to rule that a lawsuit was ill-conceived and wrong, and then to be sued personally for that decision. And remember, the initiative applies to more than just judges; it affects pretty much every public official from school board member to township council, on up.

So why does the NAM care? Well, of course we have great South Dakota member companies, who help drive the state’s economy. They don’t want to be sued, or have a judge defer from making the right call because the judge could be sued personally for that decision.

And, if South Dakota passes the constitutional amendment, avaricious attorneys from across the country will spot a legal climate that invites lawsuits. And act accordingly. Does South Dakota want to add itself to the list of “judicial hellholes?”

As noted, this is a national movement. If Amendment E passes, you’ll see a local version soon, inviting more and more and more litigation. Abitrary, capricious litigation that will drive up the costs of doing business…heck, of being a citizen.

But you be the judge (if you dare face that accountability)! Here’s the pro-Amendment E website. And here’s a great website from the opponents, i.e., the folks we agree with. Who appreciate how disastrous the measure could be.

A good brief from the National Association of Mutual Insurance Associations is here. (pdf file)

A recent AP news story is here.

And a timely op-ed in The Washington Post here.

Dare we say, to be continued?

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Amendment E filed suit on October 30, 2006

    Details at

  • I don’t think Amendment E is for South Dakotans who don’t or can’t think for themselve…of whom there seems to be an endless supply.

    Simply put: You don’t need Amendment E to sue anyone. Anyone can sue anyone N-o-w.

    Also, and in case you haven’t noticed; city councils and various boards are already regularly sued throughout the nation. (If you haven’t noticed click on the ballot language on to see the number of existing lawsuits.

    If people are ‘afraid’ to serve; fine. Don’t. There are plenty of other people who aren’t afraid.

    The feeble minded who are easily confused; are confused about issues. Amendment E is about judges.

  • Mr. Wood says that SD Amendment E “affects pretty much every public official from school board member to township council, on up.” Prove it! Explain to your readers exactly how you see Amendment E being used to sue say a school board president.
    You’ll be the first to do it. Go ahead, we’re waiting. And while you are at it, don’t forget the fact that school boards and the various commissions make “Executive Branch” decisions, not “Judicial Branch” decisions. And just like the terms “boards” and “commissions”, you won’t find the term “executive” anywhere in the Amendment. The reason Mr. Wood is that Amendment E doesn’t cover “Executive Branch” decisions, only
    “Judicial Branch” decisions.


  • Tim Gebhart says:

    Your readers might also want to check out, an independent effort to tell the truth about Amendment E.