Friday, August 13, 2010

O'Connor Judicial Selection Initiative

Two weeks ago, retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor sat on a Ninth Circuit panel in Montana and attended a luncheon with a local bar association.  At the luncheon, O'Connor challenged Montana to shift away from electing its state judges, part of her larger, nationwide focus on this issue since retiring.  See here (New York Times op-ed by O'Connor, Take Justice Off the Ballot) and here (Wall Street Journal Law Blog post, Justice O'Connor on Judicial Elections: She's Not a Fan).

Late last year, following a 2006-2009 series of conferences on the judiciary under her name, the retired justice created the O'Connor Judicial Selection Initiative, "to take the next step and begin fostering change directly at the state level."  The Initiative, which the University of Denver sponsors, advocates appointing state judges, subject to retention elections and performance evaluations.  For a color-coded map of states' judicial selection processes from the Initiative's website, click here.  (Justice Ginsburg also opposes electing judges.)

As the Initiative acknowledges, "no selection system is perfect."  For instance, retention elections are not completely insulated from politics, though far more so than traditional elections.  Just last week, there was a call in Iowa to unseat (via a retention vote in November) three state supreme court justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage there.  Those three were joined by other justices in the unanimous opinion, but only they are on the ballot this year.