Op-ed calls on Michigan to Reform Judicial Selection


Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly is returning to private practice less than five years after being elected to the Court. Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio’s political analyst, expressed concern over such resignations in a recent op-ed:

“To me, there’s something odd about that. Barring health or family reasons, I would think elected officials ought to feel an obligation to finish the term they asked the voters to give them. But resignations from the state’s highest court are fairly common, and what this means is that the governor will get to name a replacement for the third time in five years.”



O’Connor is Honored by Three Current Women Justices

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was joined by the court’s three women justices this week at an event paying tribute to Justice O’Connor’s life and legacy.

Justice O’Connor received an award in Washington, D.C. from Seneca Women Global Leadership Forum, the Associated Press reported. The AP said the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court “was lauded for her trailblazing success — both during her time on the bench and in her advocacy work since leaving the court to promote civic education for children and justice for women around the world.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg commended Justice O’Connor’s demeanor on the court, where she served between 1981 and 2006, according to a Blog of Legal Times post. (It can be accessed through a Google search.) “Sandra Day O’Connor has done more to promote collegiality” on the court, Justice Ginsburg said, “than any other justice past or present.”

Justice O’Connor also serves as the first Honorary Chair of Justice at Stake.


Sandra Day O’Connor is Doing Her ‘Most Important Work Yet’

After sitting on the nation’s high court for 25 years, Sandra Day O’Connor embarked on her most important work yet: video games. Specifically, video games designed to teach middle school students about government.

After Justice O’Connor retired from the Supreme Court, “she grew increasingly concerned with the number of states moving toward electing rather than appointing judges,” and with the growing role of fundraising in those races. People wanted control over the judicial branch, but didn’t understand the role of judges. O’Connor realized the importance of educating children, and eventually discovered the power of video games.

Her iCivics games have been played collectively over 30 million times, and provide nearly 90 years of collective civics experience to students each academic year, according to USA Today. And they really work, by many accounts. The article explains that “a 2012 Tufts University study, for instance, found that students using iCivics were 38% more likely to write ‘excellent’ civics essays than those who hadn’t.”


Money in Politics Group, iCivics Program Get MacArthur Awards

The National Institute on Money in State Politics, a Justice at Stake partner organization, and iCivics, a civics education program co-founded by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, were named among nine organizations receiving the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Organizations.

The Montana-based NIMSP brings transparency to campaign finance data in all 50 states. The president of its Board of Directors is Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director. It will receive $1 million.

The iCivics program “has signed up more than half of the middle-school social studies teachers in the country to use its free educational games in their classrooms” in a little more than five years, according to a Washington Post article. It will receive $750,000. Justice O’Connor is First Honorary Chair of Justice at Stake.

Sandra Day O’Connor Discusses Women and Leadership

Solicitor General Elena Kagan Addresses Georgetown Law Center ConferenceFormer Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávez joined moderator Cheryl Dell for a discussion on women and power. An article from azcentral reports that 500 people were drawn to the event in Arizona, and another 50 still had to be turned away.

O’Connor noted an absence of female role models for ambitious young girls when she was growing up, but Chávez – the first woman of color to lead the Girl Scouts – grew up admiring the woman now sitting across from her. She explained that she was 13 when O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court, and that it was important to have a female role model also from Arizona.


O’Connor Stresses Judicial Independence in Decision Making

Solicitor General Elena Kagan Addresses Georgetown Law Center ConferenceRetired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, addressing an audience in Palm Beach, Florida, emphasized the importance of judicial independence.

“People don’t often realize the significance of judicial independence,” Justice O’Connor said, according to the Palm Beach Daily News. “We do have laws and principles developed over the years to protect judicial independence in decision-making. … I have traveled the world, and not many countries have had the concepts that have served us so well.”

Justice O’Connor is First Honorary Chair of Justice at Stake. (more…)

Will High Court Case Stoke Broad Debate on Electing Judges?

In agreeing to decide whether states where judges are elected may bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign cash (see Gavel Grab), has the U.S. Supreme Court fueled broader debate about judicial elections overall?

“[Campaign contributions] impact the extent to which citizens believe that judicial decisions are based on the law rather than other factors, such as to whom a judge might feel beholden,” a Mother Jones article quoted retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as saying this summer. “In my mind, judicial campaign support—whether it involves direct contributions or independent spending—automatically creates an appearance of impropriety when supporters are involved in court cases.”

Justice O’Connor is First Honorary Chair of Justice at Stake, and the article drew on JAS data in reporting that since 2000, a total of 20 states have surpassed their prior records for judicial election spending. The article was headlined, “Supreme Court To Decide if Judges in 30 States Can Solicit Campaign Cash.”

On 40th Anniversary, a Salute to Merit Selection in Arizona

Arizona marks the 40th anniversary this year of its adoption of merit selection for choosing appellate judges and Superior Court judges in its largest counties. In an Arizona Republic op-ed, Chief Justice Scott Bales says the system has “allowed Arizona’s judiciary to earn a national reputation for fairness, efficiency and innovation.”

The Chief Justice’s op-ed is largely explanatory about how merit selection works to seat well-qualified judges, and about the Judicial Performance Review system, established by voters in 1992, to which all merit-selected judges are subject. Justice Bales also writes of  high regard nationally and in the state for Arizona’s system: (more…)

Commentary: Florida Governor Threatens Judicial Independence

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has criticized “persistent efforts in some states to politicize the bench and the role of our judges.” Florida Gov. Rick Scott would do well to listen to her, a commentator writes.

At SaintPetersBlog, retired St. Petersburg Times associate editor Martin Dyckman says the independence of 26 judicial nominating commissions in Florida has “vanished under Scott,” who on 19 occasions has rejected lists of names for the panels recommended to him by the Florida Bar.

Florida’s governor appoints all nine members of each screening commission, including four members from lists recommended by the Bar.

By contrast, Dyckman notes that the  “O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan,” recently issued by the Denver-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (see Gavel Grab), takes a different tack. IAALS is a JAS partner organization. (more…)

O'Connor Enjoys a 'Bully Pulpit' Advocating Judicial Selection Reform

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s advocacy, to replace state judicial elections with an appointive system using bipartisan screening commissions, continues to grab newspaper headlines.

The N.Y. Daily News reported, “Sandra Day O’Connor decries letting ‘cash in the court’ with judicial elections: The retired U.S. Supreme Court justice is lending her voice to the Quality Judges Initiative, which advocates for the use of nominating commissions to replace elections for judges.”

The article said, “Sandra Day O’Connor may have left the bench but she still has a bully pulpit.”

You can read more from Gavel Grab about Justice O’Connor’s recently released Judicial Selection Plan, developed in conjunction with the Denver-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. Justice O’Connor also serves as Justice at Stake’s Honorary Chair.