Practice of selecting judges should favor good government over special interests

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: October 4, 2013

In “The Case for Partisan Judicial Elections,” a 2003 Federalist Society paper authored by Michael DeBow, Diane Brey, Erick Kaardal, John Soroko, Frank Strickland and Michael B. Wallace, the authors noted, “In operation, the Missouri Plan substitutes committee politics for electoral politics. The appearance of expertise and nonpartisanship is largely, if not entirely, a facade — a fact widely noted in the political science literature.”

Overall, there's little evidence that judges selected by nonpartisan commissions are more qualified than those selected through direct election or other means. Three judicial reform bills passed the Oklahoma Senate this year and could be taken up in the House next session. One measure would allow the governor to select judicial nominees who would then be screened by the Judicial Nominating Commission and subjected to Senate confirmation, creating multiple layers of review. Another bill would set a 20-year term limit for judges. A third would allow the governor to select the chief justice, who oversees the entire judiciary, including local district courts.

Any change to judicial nominations should be carefully vetted; the current system was itself a reform enacted after a bribery scandal at the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 1964. The outcome of this debate is not inconsequential. The power to choose judges is the power to fortify, or to undermine, the rule of law.

Judicial selection practices should favor good government over special interests, but West's comments suggest the current system is hardly run by people virtuously placing state interest above self-interest.

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