Our voices are silenced with sham retention ballot
Much is made about the fact that the names of Arizona judges appear on the ballot. The State Bar, the Arizona Supreme Court and the majority of judges and lawyers are quick to tell us that Arizona has an exemplary system. Our judiciary is selected by virtue of merit, hence the name, “Merit Selection.”
Judges, with staggered terms, appear on the general election ballot to be “retained.” The voters have the last word, we are told.
The truth is somewhat different from these melodic refrains.
First of all, Merit Selection, the scheme by which judges are appointed to the bench is a circuitous route, rife with just enough meanderings by lawyers, the governor and Supreme Court justices to render it incomprehensible to most citizens. For good measure, a few members of the public, carefully selected to represent political parties, are tossed into the mix. Merit is often far down the list of qualifications as the process of judicial selection takes form. The governor is then sent a final list — after whichever one of the three Merit Selection commissions has culled the original list down to the established percentage of political representatives. The appellate benches and the trial courts in the two most populous counties of Maricopa and Pima utilize this system by constitutional mandate, which decrees that all counties reaching the population threshold of 250,000 residents must participate.
A tidy process, to be sure. And so it has been since its inception in 1974. Along the way, a nip and tuck have been taken, but the selection system remains intentionally murky.
Arizonans have been given an assist, we are told, by the Commission on Judicial Performance Review, (JPR) which publishes a rating of all judges culled from questionnaires given to jurors, lawyers, litigants and witnesses. On the top of their web page, the question is asked and answered in this interesting turn of phrase: Who judges the judges? You do! We can help.
And although the group ranked one superior court judge with a miserably low rating, he was still retained by a margin of 3 to 2 on the recent ballot.
In nearly forty years, only two judges have been sent packing.
If you live in Maricopa or Pima counties, how much of a voice in the process do you think you actually have?
The voters in Arizona’s thirteen other counties currently have the ability to elect their judges. At least until the 2010 census numbers are calculated. There is a high probability that least a couple of those counties will have that basic right taken from them by virtue of population spikes, giving their votes to a controlled commission and a partisan governor.
So much for your voice.