Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, May 20, 2005

Via North Coast, Benjamin Franklin on judicial selection: "Docr. Franklin observed that two modes of chusing the Judges had been mentioned, to wit, by the Legislature and by the Executive. He wished such other modes to be suggested as might occur to other gentlemen; it being a point of great moment. He would mention one which he had understood was practiced in Scotland. He then in a brief and entertaining manner related a Scotch mode, in which the nomination proceeded from the Lawyers, who always selected the ablest of the profession in order to get rid of him, and share his practice among themselves. It was here he said the interest of the electors to make the best choice, which should always be made the case if possible."

In fact, something like this used to be done: Ronald Reagan stopped using the American Bar Association's recommendations, and the practice was not officially resumed under Clinton. Of course, it sounds very funny to say that the Scotts picked the best to take them out of the competition, but the results must have been satisfactory. Our system is close to the opposite here in the Empire State: the lawyers who can't cut it in practice often seem to be the ones we end up before. Worse than that, we pay for the privilege: when people decide to run for judicial office the first thing that they do is to put the arm on every lawyer in town. The money they raise gets funneled into the party that has nominated them, where it is spent on whatever. The truth is that there is no reason in the world to elect judges-- the job they do has nothing to do with the popular will, and may run counter to it. A number of states use what is known as the Missouri System-- judges are first appointed, then must stand for election after a stated term. I see no sense in this-- lay people are not well equipped to evaluate the judiciary, and shouldn't trouble their pretty little heads about it. Good grief, when you consider what they pick in electing legislators it's a wonder that self government endures at all.

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