Amid Rising Debate, a Call for Merit Selection in Arkansas

arkansas_flag_web_fc1aDebate is brewing in Arkansas over possible reform of the way appellate judges are elected, and amid the back-and-forth, a column by attorney Woody Bassett in The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette solidly advocates a shift to merit selection:

“In recent years campaigns for the Arkansas Supreme Court have left many of us feeling disillusioned and disheartened, regardless of whether our favored candidate won or lost. Rank partisan politics, undue influence from special interest groups and the injection of vast amounts of money into Supreme Court campaigns from both known and unknown sources are harming our state’s judicial system by eroding the respect, confidence and trust of the citizens of Arkansas in our state’s highest court.

“While most people firmly and correctly believe our circuit and district judges should continue to be chosen by the voters in the counties where they serve, Arkansas needs to establish and implement a system of merit-selection to choose who will serve on our state’s appellate courts. To do so will require that the people of this state amend the Arkansas Constitution and it’s time for our Legislature to adopt and refer such an amendment to the voters of Arkansas.”

In an Arkansas Times blog, Max Brantley mentions a possible legislative hearing on related issues, including a proposal for adoption of a selection method like the federal model, with a 12-year single term limit for judges, around March 31 . The debate follows a high-profile Arkansas Supreme Court election this year, with high spending by outside groups and questions raised about “dark money” donors (see Gavel Grab).