We don’t usually weigh in on voting issues, but here’s an exception. Please vote “no” on Proposition 115. Here’s why. Our current system, “merit selection,” works, and has been praised by organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as a “national model.” The judicial branch of Arizona is the branch of government that Arizonans trust most: currently the judiciary holds a 97% approval rating among Arizonans. While those who have crafted Proposition 115 argue that it will strengthen the merit selection system of our courts, in truth it will wholly politicize our otherwise independent judicial nomination process in Arizona.
Since 1974 Arizona has employed merit selection. Judges are chosen by the governor after receiving recommendations from an independent nominating committee composed of ten non-lawyer citizens and five attorney members. The success of this current system is found in the transparency and bipartisanship of the process itself. The five attorney members of the board are currently selected by the State Bar. The ten citizens are selected from a pool of applications to the governor’s office. Importantly, the three candidates for the judicial position cannot all be from the same political party. By balancing the power of the governor to pick members for the committee with that of the State Bar, Arizona insures that both parties, whether Democrat or Republican, stay out of the selection of judges to the court.
Proposition 115 seeks to do away with this system. Prop 115 would give almost unlimited power to the governor (whoever that may be, now or in the future) to select judges. For example, instead of picking ten candidates to the nominating commission, the governor would pick fourteen out of fifteen. Additionally, the commission would be allowed to choose eight candidates for the court, and the requirement for political party differences would be eliminated. These changes would greatly harm the independence of the judiciary, as well as lower the overall quality of our court. In essence, Prop 115 would take the power of appointment out of the hands of the public, and put it squarely in the pocket of the governor’s office and his/her political party. The governor would have almost unlimited discretion in handpicking people to the court.
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, as well as every living former Arizona Supreme Court Justice, the Interfaith Council, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, and the League of Women Voters oppose this change. Their concern? Many of them worry what will happen to the strength of the judiciary when you allow partisanship to dominate the selection of judges in Arizona.
Make no mistake; under Proposition 115, whichever political party holds the governor’s office, whether Democrat or Republican, will also control the judiciary. Justice shouldn’t depend on politics. Arizonans should protect their right to insure an independent judiciary and vote NO on Proposition 115.