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Critics Say Ariz. Bills to Change Judicial Merit Selection Are a Legislative Power Grab

Posted Mar 17, 2011 8:49 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A conservative lawmaker in Arizona has introduced several bills that would change the state’s merit selection process for appellate judges and for trial judges in its two most populous counties.

Critics say the bills introduced by Republican Sen. Ron Gould are an apparent attempt to politicize the judicial selection process and a power grab by lawmakers, according to the Arizona Republic and Capitol Media Services.

Gould says change is needed because the current merit selection system makes it difficult for voters to oust judges. Only two judges have lost their jobs in retention elections since the merit selection system was put in place 37 years ago, according to Capitol Media Services.

Two bills that made it out of committee ask voters to decide whether to change the process by:

• Removing the State Bar of Arizona from its current role of recommending lawyer appointees to judicial nominating commissions. The governor appoints five lawyer members and 10 public members to the commissions.

• Require the Senate to confirm judicial appointees. Currently the governor fills a vacancy by appointing a judge from among three candidates recommended by the commissions.

• Eliminate retention elections in favor of reappointment with Senate confirmation.

The state bar’s board of governors has voted to oppose both bills.

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