Gavel Grab

Arizona Governor Signs Change to Merit Selection Process

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has signed legislation to change the way top judges are selected. It increases from three to five the number of candidates that a judicial vetting commission recommends to the governor for vacancies on the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

Republicans who want to revise Arizona’s merit-based judicial selection process had pushed for the change (see Gavel Grab). The new law does not go nearly as far as Brewer, a Republican, would like according to a Capitol Media Services article; she has stated that she prefers a federal-style system whereby a governor appoints judges subject to Senate confirmation.

Some legislators contended the measure would be unconstitutional. A challenge of its constitutionality would go to the state Supreme Court. The Senate approved the measure last week, according to a separate Capitol Media Services article.  

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Arizona Weighs Change to Merit Selection Process

If the Arizona Senate agrees with a plan approved by the House, the governor would get five — instead of three — choices when a vetting commission recommends candidates for judgeships.

Republicans who want to revise Arizona’s merit-based selection process have pushed for the change, according to an Associated Press article.

Last year, Arizona voters rejected a ballot measure to allow  the governor to pick more members of a judicial nominating commission, and to eliminate a requirement that a final list of candidates recommended to the governor include individuals from different political parties (see Gavel Grab). 

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Judges Win Retention Votes in Arizona, Indiana, Illinois

Efforts to unseat state supreme court justices in retention (yes-or-no) elections failed in Arizona and Indiana.

In Arizona, Supreme Court Justice John Pelander  set up a campaign committee to defend against a GOP and tea party effort to unseat him (see Gavel Grab). Justice Pelander is a Republican. Justice Pelander and other appellate judges on the  ballot  ”coasted easily” to retention, the Arizona Republic reported.

In Indiana, Supreme Court Justice Steven David, the target of some anti-retention efforts over a single ruling in a controversial case (see Gavel Grab), won another term with 69 percent of votes cast. An Associated Press article characterized the retention challenge as rare. Read more

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Arizonan Has Unusual Retention Election Fight for High Court

A state Supreme Court retention (yes-or-no) election is making headlines in still another state, Arizona. Incumbent Justice John Pelander has set up a campaign committee to defend against a GOP and tea party effort to unseat him. Justice Pelander is a Republican.

According to an Arizona Republic article, campaign literature and online posts urge a “no” vote on retaining Justice Pelander over his joining a Supreme Court ruling in September. The ruling permitted Proposition 121, an initiative that would eliminate the two-party primary system, to appear before voters on next month’s ballot.

“I’m concerned on two fronts,” Justice Pelander said. “The Supreme Court ruling in this case is being mischaracterized. So, I view it not only as a personal attack on me as the only (Supreme Court) judge on the retention ballot, but also as an affront to the integrity of the court.”

He also said he didn’t know of other times in the past four decades when an Arizona justice established a political committee in a retention election. Read more

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Prominent Jurists Fault AZ Ballot Measure on Judicial Selection

“Let’s keep politics out of the judiciary,” retired Arizona Chief Justice Ruth V. McGregor and Santa Cruz County Presiding Judge James A. Soto urge in a critique of Proposition 115, a ballot item to alter Arizona’s merit-based selection system for choosing judges.

The jurists’ op-ed in The Weekly Bulletin criticizes Proposition 115 as “a blatant attempt by the Legislature to inject politics into the judicial selection process and significantly change a system that has served our state well for over thirty-seven years.” Justice McGregor is a Justice at Stake board member.

Proposition 115 would allow the governor to choose among more judicial nominees and give the governor more power over judicial nominating commissions. To learn more details, see Gavel Grab.

Justice McGregor and Judge Soto take sharp issue with the proposal, contending it would bring harm to a system that has worked well, has drawn praise from retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and has been viewed as a model by groups including the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. Here is the heart of the jurists’ criticism:

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Commentary: ‘Why Change’ Arizona Merit Selection?

A ballot item proposing to alter Arizona’s merit-based selection system for choosing many judges drew opposition in an Inside Tucson Business commentary. It was written by Carol West, a former Tucson City Council member.

While the heart of West’s commentary is an explanation of the proposal, and of the way that merit selection works, she concluded with a statement by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a a former Arizona legislator and judge.

Regarding merit selection and its effectiveness, Justice O’Connor, said,  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” West’s commentary was headlined, “Prop. 115: Choosing judges on merit is good, so why change it?” To learn more about what the ballot item proposes, and controversy over it, see Gavel Grab.

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Arizona Proposition 115: ‘More is Better’ with Judicial Selection

Proposition 115 to alter Arizona’s merit-based selection system for picking judges would allow the governor to choose among more judicial nominees and give the governor more power over judicial nominating commissions.

If voters approve it, the measure would increase the number of nominees chosen by a screening commission and submitted to the governor from three to at least eight, an Arizona Capitol Times article says.

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 two of the state’s largest counties.

David Berman, senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, says that Proposition 115 arose from a compromise over previous legislation that would have eliminated merit selection in Arizona.

“There have been a lot of people in the Legislature who feel the judges have been too liberal,” Berman said.

Peter Gentala, counsel to the Republican majority in the Arizona House of Representatives, says that the proposal will result in more qualified applicants applying for a judgeship.

Opponents of 115 argue that the measure will only serve to politicize the courts, and that Arizona’s existing judicial selection system is viewed as one of the nation’s finest.

Former State Bar president Mark Harrison says that “[u]nder Proposition 115, Sandra Day O’Connor would not have gotten to the Supreme Court of the United States.” He noted that the proposal would allow all judicial nominees to belong to one political party; O’Connor, a Republican, was named to the Arizona Court of Appeals by a Democratic governor. Harrison is Justice at Stake’s board chairman.

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

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Article: How Judicial Merit Selection Plays out in Arizona

Out of 38 judgeships she has filled, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has named 35 Republicans, or 92 percent of the judges, from her party. That’s a higher ratio than any of her three predecessors selected from their own parties, according to an Arizona Republic article.

Despite existence of a merit-based system for selecting judges that has been in place for 38 years, political factors still are involved in seating judges on the bench, the article said.

Nonetheless, a number of legal veterans said Arizona’s courts “tend to be nonpartisan in rulings and conduct,” the article added. “They say that’s because under the merit-selection systems, nominees are chosen more for their experience, professionalism and abilities than their political views.”

If a ballot measure before voters is passed this fall, the role that politics plays in the process could increase, according to some experts. The article recapped views from both sides of the ballot measure to give the governor more control, and options, when it comes to picking judges for vacancies (see Gavel Grab for background).

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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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Changes to Merit Selection Come Before Arizona Voters

Arizonans will be asked this year whether to change the merit-based system in place for choosing judges for appeals courts and the trial courts in the two largest counties. Backers of the changes say they would reduce the role of the state Bar and give more control to the governor, according to an Arizona Republic article.

There is significant disagreement in the legal and judicial community over the proposals, the article indicates. To read details of the proposals, see earlier Gavel Grab posts.

An election publicity pamphlet will feature support from the State Bar of Arizona,  the Arizona Judges Association, the Legislature, the Arizona Judicial Council and the Governor’s Office.

Critics, on the other hand, fear movement toward a system of political appointments. Opponents include  former state Bar presidents, former chief justices, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the Maricopa County Bar Association and the Arizona Democratic Party.

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