Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter
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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

As stupid and wrong as New York's system of electing judges is, at least we have merit selection processes in place as we go up the appellate ladder. In West Virginia they elect 'em all, and they apparently don't have any sort of system to require recusal. My hunch is that the Supreme Court isn't going to disturb the West Virginia Supreme Court's reversal for the same reason that it declined to find New York's judicial selection process unconstitutional. As Justice Stevens said, "I think it appropriate to emphasize the distinction between constitutionality and wise policy,The Constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws."

The answer really isn't public funding for judicial elections-- that would still leave "judicial selection to voters uninformed about judicial qualifications". Being a judge isn't an easy job-- although I think we sometimes flatter ourselves overmuch when we emphasize the intellectual rigor that's required to be a judge or a lawyer. There is nothing about the job that suggests that the qualities called for are best found in popularly elected individuals. The other day I ran down the list of the judicial screening panel here in Western New York, and the fact is that every single one of the people on that list-- political though they may be (and they are)-- is supremely well-equipped to pick judges. This is simply not true of jes' folks. I think that maybe judicial screening panels could be improved by having a law professor or dean, and even a layman or two-- but a popular election is a terrible way to get judges.

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