Recent Events Highlight AJS Priorities
Doerfer, Gordon L., Judicature
Recent events have highlighted the issues that AJS has been concerned with throughout our long history. The decision in Caperton gave the press an opportunity to focus on the fundamental importance of a fair and impartial judiciary, and the dangers of an appearance of bias created by excessive campaign contributions. It was also a teachable moment on judicial selection and retention, a core concern of AJS for decades. The country has had an awakening.
The AJS website on judicial selection in the states provided a key resource to anyone who wanted ready access to the facts about judicial selection. The resources of the AJS Center for Judicial Ethics were also available on our website. The public discussion of recusal issues will continue to engage us in the months and years to come, and AJS research and commentary will help to deepen understanding of this issue.
The nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court also has focused the public's attention on selection of judges in an appointive system. Although the Supreme Court is a special case, the process of nomination and confirmation is the same for all federal judges and similar to the process followed in several states. The public will confront the complex question of the role of personal background and life experience in the selection and confirmation of a judge. Inevitably the complaint about "unelected judges" deciding important questions of law will surface and there will be a chance to increase public understanding of the role that judges in a common law system play in "making the law." The public will be reminded of the unique role of the Supreme Court in interpreting the Constitution and the function that the courts play in judicial review of the actions of the other branches of government.
Questions will also be raised about how the new justice will or is likely to vote on important issues that may come before the Court. We hope the ethical limitations on such questions will be pointed out as well as the ethical and policy complexities of probing a candidate for general legal philosophy while not asking for commitments or promises. …