Selection of Judges

The National Judicial College article got me thinking about judicial selection.  It always rubs me wrong when people say elections are not a good way to select judges.  This weekend, I had a great discussion about politics with a lawyer that I admire and respect.  It was interesting to me that we had a different point of view on a couple of issues.  So, I’ve decided to write a few posts on judicial selection.  Let me know if you have any topics you’d like to see discussed.

I’ll begin with the selection methods.  I’ve noticed that lawyers and judges like to talk about the selection methods of judges.  Most talk bad about elections and claim that appointments are a better option.  Which method is “better”?

I believe they are actually the same, the only difference is the size of the electorate.  Appointments require you get the vote of 1 (the Governor/President) or a few (the Committee/Senate).  Elections may require more than 100,000 votes.

I’ve seen good judges that have been appointed and elected.  I’ve also seen bad judges who have been appointed and elected.  In appointments, often, the person selected is chosen for reasons other than he/she is the “best candidate for the job” or “would make the best judge.”  In elections, often, the best candidates don’t qualify or run for the office. So, they never apply for the job.

If I had to chose, I’d say appointments are better only because more qualified lawyers are willing to apply and it’s easier to get selected.  I don’t buy the argument that appointed judges are more independent.  We will never know what that person may have had to say or commit to before they got the appointment!

Frankly, I view an election as a requirement for the job. The debate over elected versus appointed is a waste of time because Mississippi law says we are going to elect our judges.  I wanted to be a judge.  I paid the fee and filed my papers.  I was on the ballot.  You can be too.

The important issue is what can we do to improve the selection of our judiciary?  Judicial elections are next year. Here are some thoughts for lawyers to consider:

  1. Know what positions are up for election.
  2. Talk to judges and find out if they are running again next year.
  3. Encourage judges/lawyers you admire and respect to consider running. Promise support, if you are actually willing to do something.
  4. Engage with other lawyers and discuss who would be a good judge or who may be interested in running.  Then, encourage that person to consider a run.
  5. Read the Code of Judicial Conduct and learn the rules of judicial elections.  The best way to help is to understand exactly what it takes to run and what you can do to help.
  6. Have a discussion in your firm about your policies in judicial elections. I find that most law firms want to avoid being involved in elections for fear of recusal.  Fair concern, but learn the rules so you know what is and is not allowed.  Don’t guess.  You will not get good judges if the good lawyers avoid participation.

Judicial elections are not fun.  Not everyone gets a chance at an appointment.  Sometimes you have to decide to step out there an run.

I hope to provide some information on judicial elections.  If there is anything you are interested in, please let me know.

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