Monday, August 08, 2005

It'd be an improvement

The Alabama Bar Association is pushing for a constitutional amendment to end partisan elections for the state's appeals courts and move toward an appointment system.

Under the proposal, a variant of the Missouri Plan, a nominating committee would submit three names to the governor, who would appoint one of the finalists to fill a judicial vacancy. Then an evaluation committee would issue a report on the judge's work before the state's voters decided in an uncontested election whether to retain or oust the judge.

Alabama's judicial elections have become big-money affairs in the last two decades -- the Mobile Register reports that in Supreme Court races, "campaign expenditures increased by 776 percent between 1986 and 1996" -- and that big spending can hurt the public's view of the judiciary. As ABA President Bobby Segall said, "[H]aving special elections where groups take sides and give money makes judges vulnerable to people questioning their objectivity, and that's not fair to them."

The ABA's proposal would be a better way than partisan elections to minimize those objectivity concerns and to free judges to make rulings that are unpopular but legally correct. It also would retain the main advantage of judicial elections by leaving judges ultimately accountable to the public. The plan isn't perfect, and it isn't likely to become reality any time soon, but on the whole, it'd be better than the system we have now.

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