One of the biggest players in American judicial politics is highlighting how merit selection of judges can advance its goals. The Institute for Legal Reform, an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, today offered its support for a merit selection model it believes will promote accountability and quality while keeping judges insulated from raising millions from parties who appear before them.
On one level, this is big news: over the past decade, the Chamber has helped pour millions of dollars into supreme court races. Indeed, some hard-line business players—as well as some of their hard-line counterparts on the trial attorney side—have sought to roll back merit selection systems in order to create more opportunities to install judges who will be more answerable to campaign-trail pressure.
But as we detailed in an article in Slate last year, a silent majority in the business community has long preferred the stability and quality that a well-constructed merit selection system can offer. Many of them are weary of writing bigger checks every election to try to keep up with union and plaintiff’s attorney expenditures, or waging war to change the rules in states that use merit selection to pick some of their judges. (In ballot measures last year, voters in counties in Missouri and Kansas chose merit over contested elections.)
In its report today, ILR released a “best practices” guide for nominating and appointing judges in merit selection states. “The quality of justice in our state courts is of critical importance to the entire business community,” the report begins. The Guide draws heavily on the Arizona system.
The Guide proposes that elements of a merit selection system be “characterized by transparency, diverse participation in the Commission, and opportunities for the public at large to provide input into the process.” It affirms that many in the business community would like a break from the judicial selection wars. They want high-quality judges above all else, and they know that a well-constructed merit selection system is one well-established way to get there.
Update: The Institute was kind enough to invite me to participate in a panel this morning discussing the report. The session was moderated by Tom Gottschalk, chair of the ILR board (and a member of Justice at Stake’s Board of Directors), and also included former Arizona Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, former Colorado Justice Rebecca Kourlis, and Jonathan Bunch, director of the state courts program at the Federalist Society.