In a video screen-shot, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (center) describes a proposed judicial selection plan.

In a video screen-shot, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (center) describes a proposed judicial selection plan.

The dialogue over how we select judges continues in earnest across the country, and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor continues to be in the thick of it.

As Justice O’Connor recently said, “The courts are the bulwark of our democracy, and we can ill afford to see them undermined.”

Last week, we read an announcement that a new proposed plan had been released, and it is named the O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan. (The complete plan is here.)

The new proposed plan was issued by the Advancement of the American Legal System.

The new proposed plan was issued by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.

The proposal comes out of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS). You can read more about the news here.

According to plan advocates, the plan “was the outgrowth of work by Justice O’Connor, IAALS and the Advisory Committee to its Quality Judges Initiative, chaired by former Arizona Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, who is a member of the Justice at Stake Board of Directors.”

As described by Justice at Stake, the plan includes:

“a judicial nominating commission to screen judicial applicants and identify the best qualified candidates, appointment by the governor of one of those candidates, broad-based and objective evaluation of judges’ performance on the bench, and periodic retention elections.”

(Yes, that is very much like the Arizona system, at least in three counties.)

Justice at Stake logoWould you like to see where your state stacks up in its judicial-selection method? The IAALS, at the University of Denver, breaks it down here.

In case you’re thinking the conversation is of interest merely to court wonks, read a new study by the Defense Research Institute, which calls itself “the voice of the defense bar.” Its report titled “Economics of Justice” details the facts behind its position that financial blows suffered by the judicial branch are inflicting “widespread economic harm in communities.”

A press release and link to the full report are here.

Finally, for a quick synopsis of the O’Connor Plan, watch this video with the Justice herself, along with retired Arizona Chief Justice Ruth McGregor and IAALS Executive Director Rebecca Love Kourlis.

 

“Funding Justice: Strategies and Messages for Restoring Court Funding”This month, a useful document was released by two organizations committed to a strong and fully funded judiciary. We’ll see if it makes a conceptual difference in the contentious nationwide fight over court funding.

“Funding Justice: Strategies and Messages for Restoring Court Funding” was authored by Justice at Stake and the National Center for State Courts.

The report is refreshingly detailed and focused on strategies (placing that word in a report’s title is never a guarantee that the authors will provide any; these authors do). As the authors say, “The guide is entirely based on a nationwide opinion research project that included focus groups, a poll of American voters, and interviews with chief justices, legislators, and others closely involved in debates around court funding.” And at least a portion of the recommendations arose out of focus groups held in Phoenix in February 2012 (so you may have been a part of the research).

National Center for State Courts logoYou can read and download the entire report here.

I appreciated Gavel Grab’s summary and analysis of the report. Author Peter Hardin also includes links to news stories about the courts’ budget crisis.

Hardin also points us to another post worth a look (for detail and extreme candor): this blog post out of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. There, Bert Brandenburg (Executive Director of Justice at Stake) and Jesse Rutledge (Vice President for External Affairs at the National Center for State Courts) explain their thinking in how they crafted the report. Their exposition reveals an awareness of the value of political nuance.

Justice at Stake_logoAs Brandenburg and Rutledge explain:

“[The report] advises, for example: ‘Focus on harm to taxpayers and the economy—not damage to the courts.’ It underscores the idea that ‘It’s not about you. It’s about them.’

“[It] also warns against adopting a message that ‘[c]ourts are a ‘separate and co-equal’ branch of government and thus should be treated with greater respect in the budget process’ because it ‘falls on deaf ears with the public,’ the guide says. What’s more, ‘Americans overwhelmingly felt that the courts should not get special treatment, and the judiciary should be expected to tighten its belt—like everyone else.’”

I think the report reflects a deep understanding of the crisis and the persuasive challenge that court supporters face. Feel free to pass it on to anyone who would benefit from it. And let me know whether you think this tool is likely to make a bigger impact in the conversation than approaches from the past.