Appointing judges

Come November 2010, Nevadans will decide whether their judges should be appointed, even though voters previously have rejected the idea, and even though many state court judges are appointed to start their careers anyway.

State Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, has long believed that the public shouldn’t select the most powerful officials in government. He and many other Nevada lawyers find the mix of fundraising and campaigning incompatible with the integrity and independence expected of the judiciary.

This year, Sen. Raggio got his cause through the Legislature. Lawmakers approved Senate Joint Resolution 2, which puts before voters a ballot question to amend the state constitution and drastically change the way we pick state judges.

Under the plan, a Commission on Judicial Selection (appointed largely by the governor) would review the applications of prospective judges, interview the attorneys and recommend three candidates for each open bench. The governor’s selection would have to undergo a formal evaluation before the state’s next general election, then, running unopposed, receive 55 percent of the vote to win a six-year-term.

Voters rejected a similar plan in 1988.

Of course, Nevada already has a Commission on Judicial Selection, which already recommends candidates to the governor. And the governor appoints a great number of state court judges because so many retire in the middle of their terms or resign to take higher office. Once handed the power of incumbency, most of these appointed judges run for election unopposed, anyway.

Proponents of the amendment will have a tough sell.

Their claim that approval of the ballot question would remove politics from the process of selecting judges is pure folly. All it would do is empower a group of mostly unelected citizens to substitute their judgment for the electorate’s; the State Bar of Nevada would appoint four members to the Commission on Judicial Selection, and the governor would appoint four members of the public who are not lawyers, joining the chief justice of the Nevada Supreme Court.

Think there wouldn’t be any horse trading for those eight seats? Think the governor wouldn’t have to play hardball before picking both selection commission members and the judges themselves? Think campaign contributions wouldn’t be made seeking special considerations?

There is no taking the politics out of politics. Ever.

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