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TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Go slow on appointing appellate court judges

Once upon a time, state Republicans wanted to appoint judges because they couldn't get voters to elect their candidates.

The judges back then were Democrats and Republicans thought that adopting a plan to select them by committee would give the state a better quality of justice, meaning more Republicans.

Today, after Alabama is decidedly GOP and the appellate judges are Republicans, Democrats are putting forth the same idea.

Regardless of party affiliation, the Alabama State Bar is pushing a plan to appoint the judges and for the same reason: To improve the quality of justice.

But Republicans, being in control of the courts, want no part of this. They like seeing their candidates elected, just as the Democrats once did.

Neither party, in all honesty, is worried an awfully lot about quality. Party affiliation and judicial philosophy count.

The bar association announced last week that it won't push its proposal for appointing these top appellate court judges during the election year but will wait until perhaps 2007 to do so.

The proposed system works in 16 states and results in candidates spending far less money for election and to stay in office.

The plan allows a committee of lawyers and non lawyers to screen candidates and recommend a slate from which the governor chooses when a court vacancy comes up. Then another committee reviews the judge's work after six years and publishes a report. Voters then decide to keep or reject the judge.

The outcome of such a plan needs considerable study because the judges under the plan are rarely defeated.

Is that because the screening committee does such an outstanding job on recommending candidates to the governor, or is it that the incumbent has the advantage?

Ideally, appointed judges stay in office because governors appoint quality people to the bench. But to make sure the system isn't flawed, this radically different proposal needs serious study and consideration. A change might be best.

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