O’Connor: Joe the Merit Committee Board Member

A series of panel discussions at Georgetown University Law School Tuesday focused on the impact of the Supreme Court’s recent rulings in Caperton and Citizens United on state courts.

smith-georgetownView the conference webcast here.

The conference, co-sponsored by The Aspen Institute, prominently featured Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who is leading an initiative to abolish judicial elections in favor of judicial appointments.

The second panel, “Citizens United and the Election of State Court Judges,” moderated by National Law Journal‘s Tony Mauro, featured a lively debate with CCP Chairman Bradley A. Smith, Jan Baran, Karl Sandstrom, H. Thomas Wells, Jr. and Fred Wertheimer.

While the Center for Competitive Politics is agnostic on the question of whether a system of appointments should be adopted instead of judicial elections, we’re interested in engaging with groups like O’Connor’s about any potential quantitative benefits of merit selection instead of focusing on conjecture about how money supposedly corrodes the judicial system. Under Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, the Supreme Court held that if states hold judicial elections, candidates must be afforded full First Amendment rights.

Arizona’s commission, for example, has a majority-non-lawyer commission that holds public meetings to consider judicial nominees, who are then appointed by the governor — providing some political accountability. Switching over to merit selection should not remove accountability from the voters with qualification boards dominated by elite interest groups on either side of the legal community (such as the trial bar or business groups). Justice O’Connor enthusiastically agreed:

“You need Joe the Plumber!” O’Connor exclaimed at the afternoon question and answer session.