Tuesday, June 12, 2007

If We Search Really Hard, We Might Find a Good Republican to Become a Judge

Our current system of electing judges makes little sense. As judicial candidates are ethically bound to not discuss any issues bearing upon possible court decisions, they are prohibited from saying anything which would allow voters to distinguish among aspirants. A poll conducted by Millersville University found that 84% of people surveyed admitted they knew nothing about the appellate court candidates they were electing. This creates several problems. The election of judges becomes heavily influenced by the strength of political leaders, as it becomes such leaders who can most determine the outcome of judicial elections. This can potentially taint court decisions where such politicians have interests. This further leads to employment within the judicial branch being given to people to political connections, which can produce a weaker running judiciary than if positions were filed on the basis of abilities.

A better system would be to select our judges on the basis of merit. A panel focusing on the qualifications of potential judges can better decide who is capable of serving as judges. While this system does not guarantee perfection, it does remove the political bias from electing judges. For this reason alone, merit selection is a far better procedure.

The merit selection of judges, under most current proposals, still can lead to other problems. The proposal whereby the Governor appoints judges create a judiciary with a bias or appearance of bias towards the Governor. Proposals whereby committee members, appointed by the Governor and / or legislators, recommend judges allow the process to be politicized by the people choosing the members of the committees. Fortunately, there is a way to correct these difficulties.

Merit selection committees should be designed such that no one controls a majority of the appointments to the committees. The fairest system would be to have one third of the members chosen by the executive, one third chosen by legislative leaders of both parties, and one third chosen by other judges, but not judges sitting on the same bench as the panel is choosing. If the committees recommending judges were to be representative of our system of government, our system of checks and balances would apply to judicial selection. No one branch of government would be able to dominate the choice of judges.

The legislature should move to create a merit system free of political dominance. Only then can we have a judiciary independent of undue influences.


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