Tin Shop Tartan - Randolph County Alabama's Own Snarky and Surly Scot Gets All Native

Blogging from the suburbs of the Tin Shop community, Captain Plaid brings Progressivism, and a share of Quixotic angst, to the ridges and hollows of Randolph County, Alabama. Hardly a booster yet rooted here enough to fight, Plaidsters can perhaps find like cause in trying to build local solutions to global concerns. Education, environment, economy, entertainment, engagement ... Trust the Tartan!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Taking politics out by politicians select justices?

The Randolph Leader Editorial from today's paper entitled "Fundraising by Supreme Court candidates affects performance, perceptions" rightly blasted the way our Appellate Court Justices are elected, focusing on the expenses of these races and fears that favoritism could be seen as a way of paying back the big contributors. Yet, the way this piece ended floors me. The Leader writes,

For the solution we need only to look to the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices are appointed by the president and approved by Congress. Here our elected governor could appoint and our elected Legislature could approve. If we don't like their choices we vote the elected representatives out at the next election.

Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court justices' lifetime appointments, our state Supreme Court justices could be appointed to fixed terms such as six years. At the end of that term whoever the governor may be then may choose to reappoint or replace the justice.

It's not a perfect system, but it beats the one we've got. Anything that helps take the politicking and campaign fund-raising out of the process is an improvement.

I know the Alabama State Bar has promoted a version of the "Missouri Plan". Here's how it basically works: An independent "Nominating Commission" of nine members - not just lawyers - offers up a slate of qualified nominees for the Governor to select from. You'd then have an eleven member "Evaluation Commission", again not all being lawyers, prepare a report on how the Justice handled the job at the end of their terms. You'd then hold retention elections on these jurists which would allow the general public the choice to return them to the bench or be shown the door. If bounced, the opening would be filled by the above process. As a quick aside, criminal defense lawyers need to have a larger defined role in the Alabama State Bar's plan!

The Leader's idea seems very flawed. For one thing, although perhaps the Governor and Goat Hill crowd knows more about the candidates judicial qualifications than the average voter, it is naive to suppose "politicking" isn't going to be part of the process.

Also, would a Governor not be sorely tempted to remove a capable jurist due to the mere fact that he or she is a member of the other party?

What about patronage? Deal making behind close doors? You don't think George Corley Wallace would have done some politicking in the process of filling these seats?

Can we imagine the judges appointed by Fumbling Fob or Guy Hunt of AmWay lore?

This editorial wants the Governor and Legislature to select the very judges that will be deciding cases often involving the other two branches? Conflict! If voters don't like the judges we are told to vote those selecting the judges out? Defeating an incumbent over anything is tough enough yet I can already imagine politics would play into this process. Votes could be gained most certainly by pandering to the base over social issues and those damn "liberal trial lawyers". I can also imagine "test" cases that various groups might bring to try to create wedge issues they could exploit yet that might be occuring any way we slice things.

The wisdom of the lifetime appointments in our Federal system is that once the judges get on the job they can act without fear of being bounced out when they yank up the other two branches.

I actually prefer the current method than one handing the Montgomery Big Mules even more power. You don't think Alfa or Alabama Power would press their guys and gals in the process? The Big Mules already control too much in this state via that dreadful 1901 Constitution. I expected better than this from The Randolph Leader.

I've blogged on this several times on Captain Bama, most recently with "Missouri Plan for Selecting Appeals Court Judges", on a better way. Read the plan. Tell me then what the better approach would be. I'm betting most folks will be converted.

I also posted "As long as we are electing Judges ..." examing how the radical right pressures courts in what seems like improper ways. The Mother Jones link alone is worth a visit to see how retention elections have their own perils, perhaps especially so here in the Bible Belt.

The bottom line is that The Leader's solution is very flawed, even more so that how we currently do things. Here in Alabama, that's saying much. Peace ... or War!