O'Connor leads push against judicial elections

Sandra Day O'Connor

DENVER (Legal Newsline)- Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is leading the push against the election of judges, saying the process taints jurists who depend on political contributions to keep their places on the bench.

O'Connor, a vocal critic of judicial elections, is teaming with a think tank at the University of Denver, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, to bring public attention to the issue in the 33 states that elect jurists.

Rather than having judges run for office in much the same way politicians do, O'Connor has said she supports the idea of state commissions of mostly of non-lawyers picking nominees for governors to appoint to the bench.

"A voter goes into the voting booth on Election Day, and they have a long list of races to vote for," O'Connor was quoted by The Associated Press as saying. "When they come to the judges, they don't typically know any of them. How are they supposed to decide?"

O'Connor was the first female member of the U.S. Supreme Court. She served as an Associate Justice from 1981 until her retirement from the high court in 2006. She was appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Prior to her appointment to the court, O'Connor was an elected judge in Arizona.

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System was founded in 2006 by former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis. She will direct the new project, while O'Connor will chair the 11-member advisory committee overseeing the effort, officials said Thursday.

"Thirty-three states elect some portion of their judges, a process that has too often degenerated into a spectacle featuring multimillion dollar campaigns and attack ads," the institute said on its Web site.

The push by O'Connor and others comes as Nevada considers whether to adopt a constitutional amendment to jettison judicial elections and replace them with merit-based selection.

The project's advisory committee, in addition to O'Connor and Kourlis, includes: Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, Ohio Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, former Arizona Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, former American Bar Association President H. Thomas Wells, League of Women Voters President Mary Wilson, and Meryl Chertoff, director of the Sandra Day O'Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary at Georgetown Law.

Corporate members of the panel include Diane Gates Wallach of Cody Resources, liaison to the institute's board; Ramona Romero, corporate counsel, logistics and energy, at DuPont and Larry Thompson of PepsiCo.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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