AJS Project Will Preserve and Expand Merit Selection
Eckley, Timothy, Judicature
The American Judicature Society's Preservation and Expansion of Merit Selection project has received a $200,000 grant through the Open Society Institute's Constitutional Democracy Initiatives program. With this project AJS will promote the preservation and expansion of merit selection systems by providing nonpartisan public education and outreach, conducting applied research tailored to the needs of individual states, and offering expertise and assistance in support of the merit selection process.
The Project will preserve and defend merit selection through three initiatives: defense of merit selection in Missouri and other states; formation and administration of a national association of nominating commissions; and research on judicial nomination, appointment, and confirmation processes.
Despite, or perhaps because of, Missouri's history of being the first state to adopt a merit selection plan, it has now become the biggest target for merit system attacks (see the editorial, "Saving the Missouri Plan," page 160). A number of proposals have been made to alter the Missouri system of selecting judges. These attacks have been coupled with proposals to revoke the judiciary's authority to rule on certain issues. To neutralize the attacks, AJS will continue to work with the bar, the judiciary, and its membership in Missouri to develop successful communications on the value of the Missouri Plan for selecting judges.
The project will also establish a national association of judicial nominating commissions to provide a resource network for commission members and their staff. In the 33 states that use nominating commissions to screen and recommend applicants for judgeships, there are 362 individual nominating commissions with nearly 3,000 commissioners, plus additional support staff. Each commission is engaged in similar tasks with similar objectives, and commissioners typically share concerns regarding their work. Except for periodic AJS training programs, no institution or association exists to offer coordinated assistance to these commissions.
Strengthening merit selection systems also includes efforts to expand understanding of how these systems operate in practice. Merit selection is a two, and sometimes three, stage process that includes nomination by a commission, gubernatorial appointment (with a few exceptions), and legislative confirmation where required. There is little comprehensive research on how particular aspects of the nominating process work in practice. Similarly, there is virtually no research on how governors and legislators approach their responsibilities. The project's exploratory research will entail surveys of and interviews with nominating commission members, gubernatorial staff members who work on judicial appointments, and legislative judiciary committee members in states where legislative confirmation of judges is required. …