Aug 26 2008
Last week, we wrote about the Wall Street Journal’s August 14th editorial criticizing Merit Selection. Although the Journal did publish several letters in response (including letters from the American Bar Association and Justice At Stake), unfortunately the letter submitted by PMC Board Chair Bob Heim and PMCAction Board Chair Bob Fiebach was not among them. Therefore, we are publishing it here:
Tags: Bob Fiebach, Bob Heim, Merit Selection, Wall Street Journal
Your editorial “The ABA Plots a Judicial Coup” (August 14, 2008) mischaracterizes merit selection systems and pointedly ignores how successful merit selection has been on the state level in avoiding the many infirmities of elective systems. We write to clarify the benefits of merit selection at the state level, without taking a position on the American Bar Association’s proposal regarding the federal judicial appointment process.
Many judges will tell you they abhor having to raise money to run in judicial elections — with the money coming from the very same lawyers, organizations and special interest groups that may later appear before them. Polls understandably demonstrate the terrible public perception that results from this fundraising, but elections require money and judges have little choice. Many who would make good judges refuse to participate in the process for just this reason. Moreover, it is difficult for the voters to find relevant information about the candidates who are running for the appellate bench. It just doesn’t make sense to use the electoral system to select appellate judges.
Your broad-brush criticism of merit selection systems suggests that you actually would prefer a system that puts on the bench only judges of certain political and philosophical leanings – provided that they lean the right way. This isn’t democratic or populist – it’s seeking a system that can best be manipulated by powerful political interests on either side. Merit selection is designed to get the most highly qualified, fair and impartial judges on the bench, not just judges from one side of the political spectrum. In fact, judges should not owe an allegiance to any political party or constituency. Their sole fealty should be to the law.
Many states that use merit selection include lawyers and nonlawyers on their nominating commissions. In fact, under a proposal being considered in the Pennsylvania state legislature, doctors, fire fighters, teachers, used car salesmen and others would have an opportunity to serve on the nominating commission. This provision for “public members” or regular folks demonstrates an appreciation for the important perspective nonlawyers bring to the process of examining candidates for the bench.
Finally, you neglect to report that the efforts to “undo” merit selection are facing great opposition in Tennessee, Missouri and Kansas. Once states or counties eliminate expensive and divisive partisan elections for judges, they are loath to turn back. Merit selection works at the state level and that is why we are seeking to bring merit selection to the statewide appellate courts of Pennsylvania.