Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Vote no on Prop. 115 – judicial selection reform

Should strict adherence to the Christian faith and adamant opposition to abortion be the deciding factors as to whether a lawyer is appointed as a Superior Court Judge in Pima or Maricopa counties, or to any of the state’s appellate courts?

How you answer that question may determine how you vote on Proposition 115, which seeks to reform the selection and retention rules for state appellate judges and Superior Court judges in those counties.

Most voters will receive their voter guide pamphlet in the mail in the next few weeks and there are many arguments for and against Prop. 115, most asserting that it either removes politics from the selection process or injects more politics into it.

But this is only partly about the politics of judicial selection and mostly about so-called Christian values. It’s a solution seeking a problem put forth by the Center for Arizona Policy, a Phoenix-based evangelical Christian organization that wields enormous influence over the Arizona Republican Party and whose leaders fervently believe that a “Biblical worldview” in public policy is essential for Arizona’s prosperity.

Arizona’s conservatives the past few years have been trying to remake state government to conform to their political vision and the Center for Arizona Policy is in the vanguard of that effort. Prop. 115 is its idea, it not only championed the proposition, but was directly involved in the negotiations over the ballot’s language.

Arizonans used to elect all of its Superior Court and appellate judges but voters in 1974 changed the state constitution for the appellate courts and Maricopa and Pima counties because it was believed then that direct election of judges made them more beholden to the whims of the electorate or the monied interests who funded their campaigns than the law.

They instead created a merit selection process in which a bipartisan panel of experts selects a bipartisan list of three candidates for the governor to choose from to fill a court vacancy. Selected superior court judges then must face voters every four years and appellate judges every six years in a “retention” vote. Since 1974, no judge or justice has ever been booted by voters.

The supposed basis for the needed change is that the Arizona Bar Association wields inordinate power in the current merit selection process and the Bar has supposedly become more liberal these days and therefore supposedly only liberal jurists have been making the cut for the governor’s choice.

Yet during the debate and negotiation over the Senate resolution in 2011, little evidence was presented as to the supposed left leanings of all the judicial nominees. In fact, every time Gov. Jan Brewer appointed a judge, her office issued a glowing press release proclaiming the virtues of her appointee.

But this proposition isn’t what the Center and the state’s conservative legislators wanted. They wanted a system similar to the federal selection process in which the governor could pick whomever he or she wanted, but that nominee would have to be confirmed by the state Senate. What’s more, they wanted every judge to face reconfirmation at the end of their terms.

The judges and the Bar balked at that, saying it made the selection process completely political and instead dug in for a compromise which is manifested in the awful Prop. 115.

While purporting to retain the merit selection system it in fact guts it. The proposed changes give the governor extraordinary power in selecting judges. It dilutes the power of the Bar in the nominating process and increases the number of nominees to eight, which, considering the paucity of applications for most judicial vacancies, essentially insures that every application will make it to the governor’s desk.

In other words, it takes the merit out of the merit selection process. Rather than have a body of legal work that warrants elevation to the bench as determined by a panel of legal experts, an applicant need only conform to the governor’s political view of the world to get appointed to the judiciary. No check, no balance, just appointment.

That’s worse than the pick-and-confirm process originally proposed.

For the deeply religious members of the Legislature and the leaders of the Center for Arizona Policy, they need to be mindful of what they wish for – they may get it. While it may be inconceivable to them that another Democrat could be elected governor of Arizona, it was only a short four years ago that their unholy of unholies – Janet Napolitano – sat behind the governor’s desk.

If the merit selection system is not working as intended, then by all means, tweak it (as voters did in 1992, adding more members to the merit selection panel). But there’s no evidence that it’s not working, unless you insist that every judge in Arizona proclaim their Christian faith and opposition to abortion.

But this isn’t about abortion or Christianity. It’s about selecting the best judges to rule on the law without them having to cleave to a narrow, religious view of it.

Prop. 115 is a disaster and should be rejected. Vote no on Prop. 115.

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