Monday, June 28, 2010

Andersen on Electing Judges

Unlike federal judges, who are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, our state judges are elected by the people. But in practice, most of them are first appointed by the governor to fill mid-term vacancies and only face election if they are opposed at the end of their terms. There is very little public scrutiny of the appointment process, and when elections roll around, many voters don't have good tools for evaluating candidates. Professor William R. Andersen turns his attention to these issues in Judicial Selection in Washington -- Taking Elections Seriously, 33 Seattle U. L. Rev. 605 (2010), available on HeinOnline, LexisNexis, Westlaw.

Professor Andersen suggests that some problems cannot be fixed within the framework of our election system, but some can.

Some may decry big-money campaigns for judgeships, but Supreme Court precedent limits what can be done. And if there are to be elections, then judges will have to participate in campaigning -- raising money, giving speeches, and so on. To address problems resulting from this aspect of electing judges, Professor Andersen recommends revising the rules for recusal, and he says that "serious work is going on in professional bodies to make necessary revisions." (p. 609)

To make selection of judges more informed and transparent, Andersen urges "a broad-based and intentionally diverse citizen's commission charged with evaluating judicial candidates." (p. 614)

He also suggests regular, objective performance evaluations of judges, and he reports that systems for evaluating judges are being tried around the country (p. 612), citing the National Center for State Courts page on Judicial Performance Evaluation, which links to information from 18 states, including Washington. (By the way, the NCSC link is broken for Washington State's Walsh Commission Report, The People Shall Judge: Restoring Citizen Control to Judicial Selection (1996), but this link works. Prof. Andersen was a member of the Walsh Commission.)

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