The Arkansas Judicial Council, the assembly of all state circuit and appellate judges, voted overwhelmingly last week to oppose any proposal for appointment rather than election of judges.
A judge who was in attendance provided this summary (he preferred not to be named):
The Board of Directors of the group proposed a resolution to the group, which met last week in Rogers. The resolution stated opposition to appointment of judges and justices and favoring elections.
The vote by all judges present in favor of the resolution was “nearly unanimous.” There was little discussion before the vote.
Note that the resolution was general. It did not specifically address the Arkansas Bar Association proposal for selection of Supreme Court justices based on recommendations of a nominating commission to a single 14-year term. Nor did it address the governor’s preference for straight gubernatorial appointment, with confirmation by the Senate.
The vote reflects my earlier report that a move from elections was not popular with several Supreme Court justices at a minimum. But it also suggests judicial opposition is broader and deeper than I suspected.
Conventional wisdom holds that Arkansas voters prefer elections, too. Any change would have to come through constitutional amendment. The legislature will consider next year whether to put an amendment on the ballot.
Does judicial opposition suggest some fear they might not meet a qualifying standard for appointment? Or is it just grassroots populism? Are voters well-equipped to make judicial choices? Has dark money made choices even more problematic? All questions for the great minds of the legislature to ponder in January.
A better intermediate step would be to require full disclosure of sources of money spent on judicial races. It can be done, if only the legislature would. But special interests love being able to influence judicial selections from cover, without revealing their true agendas when they air hundreds of thousands in misleading advertising.