As a result of legislative action in 2011, Arizonans will be asked this year whether to change the merit-based system in place for choosing judges for the state Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and the trial courts in the two largest counties. The upcoming referendum is stirring debate.
If approved by voters, a measure of influence would be shifted from the State Bar and judicial screening commissions to the governor, who would get more options when it comes to picking judges for vacancies. Now, a governor chooses a judge from as few as three finalists selected by a screening panel; if the ballot measure is passed, the governor would choose from at least eight choices.
A Capitol Media Services article, presenting an overview of the debate, quoted Senior Judge Mary M. Schroeder of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as voicing questions about the proposed changes. She expressed concern that a governor’s choosing from a larger set of finalists would not guarantee selection of the most qualified judges.
The Arizona Judges Association backs the ballot measure, called Proposition 115. It was struck as a compromise, and Pete Dunn, a lobbyist for the judges, said more far-reaching changes that were sought by some legislators would have “destroyed merit selection in Arizona.”
Attorney Mark Harrison formed with some others a committee to oppose Proposition 115. Harrison said he was concerned that a governor’s getting more control over appointments to judicial screening panels would be harmful and would result in a system of political appointments.
To learn more about details of the proposal, see Gavel Grab. Harrison and Dunn belong to the Justice at Stake board of directors.