The GOP war on the independent judiciary (and separation of powers)

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The "Birthers, Birchers and Secessionist" wing of the Republican Party in Arizona has long opposed the wisdom of the voters in approving the merit selection system for judges in Arizona.

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was one of the architects of the merit selection system for judges when she served in the Arizona Legislature back in the 1970s. In 1974, she helped to draft the referendum creating the existing merit selection system for judges approved by voters that year.

GavelJustice O'Connor isn't shy about her opinion on the matter — states should do away with judicial elections in order to restore independence to their courts, she said in January 2009 at an Economic Club of Phoenix luncheon, co-sponsored by the W. P. Carey School of Business and the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at ASU. Sandra Day O'Connor: Where Judges Can Be Bought and Sold – Knowledge @ W.P. Carey.

Justice O'connor is chairwoman of the O’Connor Judicial Selection Initiative, announced n December 2009 by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, to help make judges more than “politicians in robes,” as she has put it. Sandra Day O’Connor Backs Campaign to End Judicial Elections – NYTimes.com:

The group plans a new push to fight judicial corruption, and the perception of corruption that campaign money can cause, by encouraging state initiatives to scrap direct judicial elections. The work will include traveling from state to state, by invitation, to work with lawmakers, policy makers and advocates to build support for selection systems through public education, legislative counsel and political campaigns.

Justice O'Connor now sees her legacy of a model merit selection system for judges under assault in her own backyard. Her strategy of public education, legislative counsel and political campaigns must begin anew here in Arizona.

On Monday, the "Birthers, Birchers and Secessionists" of the Tea-Publican Senate voted to undo a key provision of Arizona's model merit selection system of judges. The Tea-Publican Senate overwhelmingly approved a proposal to eliminate the State Bar of Arizona from nominating members to serve on the merit selection panels.

(Currently, the State Bar of Arizona nominates five attorneys to each of the 16-member commissions that recommend prospects for openings on the state appeals courts and Superior Court in Maricopa and Pima counties. Pinal County is slated to join the merit selection sytem following the 2010 Census.)

That's right, lawyers and jurists who actually work in the legal system and who are in a position to know whether an individual is both ethical and qualified to serve on the bench would no longer have a seat at the table in the merit selection process. Arizona Capitol Times »Proposal would change judicial selection process.

Who is to gain a seat at the table? This Cap Times article holds a clue:

“There is not a need to restrict the governor’s choices,” said Cathi Herrod, president of the Scottsdale-based Center for Arizona Policy, which supports the measure.

That's right, the anti-gay, anti-abortion jihadists of the Christian Taliban.

"King" Russell Pearce has a more wide-ranging proposal that would make judicial appointments subject to Senate confirmation. That measure has already been approved by Pearce's Tea-Publican Senate and awaits action in the House. You can just imagine Pearce thumping his chest and shouting "I'm the decider!"

Arizona's Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch testified on Monday that she does not want the merit selection system of judges changed. Arizona Capitol Times » Berch pushes for probate reform and merit selection in speech to Legislature. "The evidence shows that merit selection is working well," she said. "And common sense tells us that 'if it isn't broken, don't fix it.'"

Berch said merit selection allows the courts to act as a co-equal, third branch of government.

“Judges must have the independence and job security to be able to do what the law requires, without fear of retaliation,” Berch said.

Sen. Ron Gould (R-Lake Havasu City), "King" Russell Pearce's toady Tea-Publican Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, has introduced nine ballot measures aimed at changes to the merit selection system. "Four of the bills are still alive in the House. Sen. Gould disdains merit selection and retention elections."

After Justice Berch’s speech, "King" Russell Pearce said "he has long been opposed to the selection and retention process, which he said disenfranchises voters and leaves the court unaccountable" — to him.

This is the man who was recently quoted in the Arizona Republic on the Supreme Court's 1982 decision Plyler vs. Doe (regarding a Texas statute that prohibited public education funding for illegal aliens):

"It's not the law of the land when a Supreme Court issues a bad decision," Pearce said. "It's to be challenged and overturned."

Because "I'm the decider, damnit! I'm King Russell Pearce and I AM the law!"

Well, not quite. If the full Legislature approves the proposed change, it would be decided by the voters in 2012. And we can all give this demagogue "King" the middle-finger salute.

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