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Judicial selection and the ABA



(Peggy beat us to commenting on the WSJ's editorial, but since we've got a few links....)

The American Bar Association endorsed merit selection of federal judges at its annual meeting last week, and the Wall Street Journal's opinion editors are sharply critical in today's lead editorial, "The ABA Plots a Judicial Coup," calling it "latest lawyer-led attempt to strip judicial selection from future Presidents." The Journal reacts to the comments of the ABA's incoming President Thomas Wells, who says the goal is to avoid "really rancorous debates" and expeditiously fill judicial openings.

We admire Mr. Wells's high-mindedness. But surely he must have heard that merit selection merely takes the partisan politics out of the public eye and into backrooms stocked with political insiders. In states that have adopted the ostensibly nonpartisan system, it has given disproportionate influence to the state trial bars that control selection commissions and have steadily marched state courts to the left.

That may not be Mr. Wells's intention, but it's no accident that outfits like the George Soros-bankrolled Justice at Stake have lobbied for precisely this kind of "merit" selection. The group cheered the ABA proposal this week, and pledged its support. "Judges are not politicians in robes, nor are they prizes to be won by aggressive special interests," executive director Bert Brandenburg remarked. Unless, of course, the "special interest" is the lawyers' guild. Then it's all just one happy meritocracy.

Such a process would exclude an Antonin Scalia while anointing a "consensus" David Souter, WSJ writes.

American Bar Association news release and earlier news release, and the resolution in question, No. 118. The Justice at Stake news release praising the move is here.

The issue of judicial merit selection prompted a spirited exchange last month here at Point of Law.com, as Walter Olson questioned the wisdom of business making popular election of judges such a priority. (See also here, and Ted Frank here, and etc.)

Dan Pero at AmericanCourthouse.com is the most indefatigable advocate of election as an open and representative means of choosing judicial positions. He's keeping close watch on the Soros-financed efforts in support of the closed judicial shop. (UPDATE: And here is Dan's reaction to the WSJ editorial.)

Next big venue where the issue may be engaged, the American Judges Association's annual conference, Sept. 7-12 in Hawaii. The brochure and agenda list no specific meeting on the topic, though.

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.