Monday, September 27, 2021
Two weeks ago I blogged about Lance B. Wickman's article, Lawyers as Peacemakers, in the most recent issue of the Journal of Appellate Practice & Process. Today, I want to discuss part of Dean Erwin Chemerinsky's article--The Non-United States of America.
Dean Chemerinsky spends the first half of his article positing reasons for the deep partisan divides in our country. He identifies structural aspects of our governmental system, like the Electoral College, as partially responsible. He also looks at the role of the media, former President Trump, and the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Dean Chemerinsky, the "deep partisan divide in the United States" is "the greatest threat to democracy that [our country] has faced" and could lead to "serious talk of secession." Despite these dire words, he remains "an optimist and believe[s] that there is much more that unites the American people than divides us."
In that spirit, he offers one suggestion--"change the method of picking Justices and lower federal court judges to make it less partisan." Dean Chemerinsky points to states like Alaska that have a merit selection process for picking state court judges. Arizona has something similar. Our Judicial Nominating Commissions take applications for open judicial positions. The Commissions interview candidates and send a bi-partisan list to the governor, who selects a judge from that list. Many merit selection states have systems modeled after the state of Missouri.
According to Dean Chemerinsky, former President Jimmy Carter used merit-selection panels for judicial vacancies. Dean Chemerinsky recommends that such panels be ideologically diverse and include non-lawyers. These panels would give the president at least two names to fill vacancies, and the president would promise to select from the list. Obviously, this would be a change from how presidents have nominated judicial candidates in the past. Traditionally, presidents rely heavily on the home state senators who are of the same party as the president for names.
Such a panel is an interesting idea. Dean Chemerinsky states that the panels should send "the most qualified individuals" to the president, but that is certainly an objective standard. And Dean Chemerinsky recognizes that presidents would have to voluntarily agree to create such a commission. As he writes, "my hope is that once a courageous president creates the system, especially for high-profile Supreme Court nominations, political pressure will be great for others to follow the practice of merit selection."
I do think that the merit-selection process has worked well in some states, and it would be interesting to see something similar adopted at the federal level.