Gavel Grab

New Polling on Merit Selection

Earlier this week, a new poll was released on judicial selection. It was commissioned by the American Justice Partnership (AJP), created by the National Association of Manufacturers to advance its interests in the states. (In 2006, the AJP sent $1.3 million down to Georgia in an unsuccessful effort to unseat an incumbent Supreme Court justice.)

Lately, AJP has been crusading against merit-based selection systems, where the selection and retention of judges is less susceptible to special-interest money. The latest step in that campaign is a poll that generates the hostility towards merit selection that AJP seeks. A scan of the limited excerpts AJP was willing to release show the arguments against merit outnumbering arguments for—a polling no-no. And rather than fairly testing the other side, the poll waters down the traditional arguments for merit selection into bland, less appealing language. It’s also unclear why they polled only 800 voters, compared to the Gallup-standard 1,000 for a national survey.

The debate over merit selection is complicated. (JAS takes no position, and has differing opinions among its board and partners.) But there’s no debating that the public is fed up with campaign cash rolling into the courtroom: in repeated opinion surveys, including a 2002 Justice at Stake nationwide poll, 3 in 4 Americans believe that these contributions affect courtroom decisions. Missouri defeated an effort to roll back its merit selection system this year because voters saw that it amounted to political tampering with their courts.

One other note: the business community is not of one mind on this issue. A 2007 Zogby poll for of business executives shows that 71% of them support merit selection and retention elections.  Missouri’s conservative Show-Me Institute published a study judging their state’s system “superior” to elections for promoting their free-market goals.   The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s survey of corporate counsel shows that of the 20 states ranked as having the best legal climate for business, only two elect their high courts.  And today, in reaction to the AJP poll, Walter Olson at the Manhattan Institute warns that is is “really odd that business groups have gone off on this kick.”  “Electioneering and noisy public campaigns,” he writes, ”contribute to some of the most serious problems of the state courts, and specifically to some of the worst problems facing business in those courts.”

 Addendum:  Walter Olson at the Manhattan Institute adds more in a follow-up post here.

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  1. [...] to come out with specific results. As Bert Brandenburg of Justice At Stake explained in a post on Gavel Grab: A scan of the limited excerpts AJP was willing to release show the arguments against merit [...]

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