Arizona bill to change judge selection process appears in trouble

Chris Rizo Feb. 9, 2010, 2:32am

Jack Harper (R)

Sandra Day O'Connor

PHOENIX, Ariz. (Legal Newsline)-Legislation that would change the way Arizona selects its state judges appears to be foundering.

A proposal by state Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, would ask statewide voters in November to jettison the two nonpartisan commissions that now select state jurists.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Republican Sen. Jonathan Paton of Tucson -- held the bill Monday, signaling that the proposal might be in trouble.

Harper's proposed constitutional amendment, outlined in SCR 1002, asks voters to allow governors to appoint state judges, have the state Senate confirm nominees and make judges subject to reconfirmation every four years.

The effort to eliminate the state's merit selection of judges is opposed by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who lives in Arizona.

"We have an excellent judiciary at present, and in my opinion it would be against the best interests of Arizona to increase the partisanship in the selection of its judges," O'Connor wrote in a Feb. 4 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Arizona voters in 1974 approved the current system of selecting judges when they OK'd Proposition 108. Voters in the Grand Canyon State would have to approve any changes to that process.

As a state senator, O'Connor backed Prop. 108, creating Arizona's existing judicial selection system.

Currently, Arizona's judicial nominating commissions -- the Commission on Trial Court Appointments and the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments -- are made up of 15 people, five of them lawyers. The governor fills vacancies on the commissions from a pool of candidates nominated by the Arizona State Bar.

Nationally, 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.

She has teamed 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.

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.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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