[JURIST] Former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor [JURIST news archive] and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) [advocacy website] this week began a campaign to urge state legislatures to move towards merit-based judicial appointments instead of direct judicial elections. According to the IAALS there are 33 states that select judges through direct elections, which it says have become characterized by unprecedented campaign spending and sensational advertising. The O'Connor Judicial Selection Initiative (OJSI) [advocacy website] will likely push legislatures to adopt a system similar to the one O'Connor helped to introduce in Arizona, where a state commission made up mostly of non-lawyers pick judges, Governors appoint judges selected by the commissions, and voters decide in future elections whether the judges stay in office. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery [official profile] has called the system elitist and says [CNN report] that elections make him accountable to the citizens of Pennsylvania, rather than the governor or a commission. OJSI will push for these reforms to be made in the 2010 state legislative sessions.
The initiative comes after a June decision [JURIST report] by the US Supreme Court that West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals [official website] Justice Brent Benjamin [official profile] violated the due process [Cornell LII backgrounder] rights of a civil plaintiff when he did not recuse himself from a case where the defendant was a major campaign contributor of his. In September 2006, O'Connor said that judges have been intimidated and judicial independence threatened [JURIST report] by the involvement of the legislative and executive branches. O'Connor, the first woman ever on the US Supreme Court, retired [JURIST report] in January 2006 after 25 years on the bench.