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Former SCOTUS judge O’Connor calls for appointment process in Michigan judiciary

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press over the weekend calling for the state to change the way it selects judges from elections to an appointment process, as it is at the federal level.

Noting that Michigan has been home to some of the most expensive and dirtiest campaigns for spots on the state supreme court in the last few years, O’Connor argues that justices, unlike legislators, should not have to please any constituency to gain or hold office:

Proponents of judicial elections argue that this is the democratic way, and that the rough and tumble is just the price of democracy. I strongly disagree. The judiciary is different, as evidenced by our U.S. Constitution, which wisely requires appointment, not election, of federal judges.

Those who serve in the executive and legislative branches of our state governments should be responsive to public concerns and make their political decisions accordingly. Members of the judicial branch must administer justice impartially, deciding cases solely on the basis of the facts and the applicable law — protecting individual rights and constitutional guarantees.

While we expect other elected officials to take the views of their campaign supporters into account, judges should never be beholden to any constituency. Recent surveys show approximately three-fourths of the public believe judges are influenced by campaign contributions in their decision making.

Allowing cash in our courtrooms has the potential to erode the public’s confidence in the impartiality and trustworthiness of the courts. This is why I believe Michigan should move from judicial elections to a commission-based appointment and retention system. So-called “merit selection” systems can be structured to balance the need for fair and impartial courts with the need for public accountability and transparency.

The U.S. Constitution provides for judges at the federal level to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the senate, but 37 states currently hold direct elections for judges.

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