Gavel Grab

Opinion Divided Over Merit Selection Proposal in Arizona

A ballot item with a proposal to alter Arizona’s merit-based selection system for choosing many judges continues to spark debate in the final weeks before Election Day.

Voters will weigh in on a proposal to expand from at least three to at least eight names the list of judicial candidates submitted to a governor by a screening commission for an opening on the bench. The change would apply to 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.

Former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Jones told Capitol Media Services the proposal would not help to ensure selection of qualified judges.

“When you limit the number of nominees to a minimum of three, you’re going to get three people, regardless of what the governor does, that are going to be pretty much highly qualified people,” he said. “When you begin to expand that list to eight, then you water down the qualification.”

A champion of the proposal, Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, said it gives a real final choice to the governor, because the list he receives is not sharply limited.

“If the people don’t like what the governor’s doing, they don’t reelect the governor,” Farnsworth said.

Pete Dunn, who lobbies on behalf of state judges, said they have gone along with the proposal “to avoid something much worse,” referring to a more radical change that was floated earlier. Dunn belongs to the Justice at Stake board of directors.

To learn more about the debate over the proposal, see Gavel Grab.

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