Should judges be elected? Proposal filed to change it for Supreme Court | Arkansas Blog

Should judges be elected? Proposal filed to change it for Supreme Court

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The Pulaski County Bar Association will hold a timely discussion at its meeting Friday at the Clinton Library.

Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Brown and Jesse Rutledge, vice president for external affairs for the National Center for State Courts, will discuss the pros and cons of Arkansas's current system of choosing judges — by election.

The 2014 elections saw an unprecedented amount of special interest money — some unidentified as to source — play a role in judicial elections. It also saw the removal from the bench of a Court of Appeals candidate who has admitted taking a bribe in the form of campaign contributions from a nursing home operator in return for reducing a verdict against that nursing home owner by $4.2 million.

I'm an advocate of merit selection, though I'd be the first to admit political considerations would be factor in appointment as well. (I think I've misstated Brown as an advocate of merit selection. He's talked about the need for some significant differences in conduct of judicial elections versus other elections, but still appears on the side of elections.)

The discussion has some timely value because Rep. Matthew Shepherd of El Dorado has filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would eventually turn filling of Supreme Court seats over to a judicial nominating commission, with the governor naming a justice from among the commission's nominees. The amendment would also allow the legislature to refer to voters instituting a similar process for the Court of Appeals. I don't detect much popular hunger for a change from elections, but it's another discussion worth having. Shepherd's proposal would have current judges stand for retention in elections. But when they left their seats, the nominating process would begin.

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