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Sunday, May 5, 2013
The election of judges is one of the most important tasks assigned to the General Assembly by Virginia’s Constitution. It is neither an elite idea nor a liberal idea that the best qualified people be elected to the bench. In fact, merit selection has been embraced by people across the political spectrum and across the commonwealth of Virginia.
The process of electing judges should be transparent, and the people, those who are ultimately served by both the elected judges and the General Assembly, should have complete faith that every length is taken to elect the most qualified people to the bench. Instead of cutting deals to elect political allies or friends to the bench, the General Assembly should establish a vetting process whereby each potential candidate’s qualifications are objectively measured by nonpartisan groups and only those candidates whose experience, temperament and qualifications measure up would be qualified for election.
Commissions made of both lawyers and lay people could be established by the General Assembly to vet candidates. The role of bar associations, both at the state and local level, could be expanded to determine the merit of the various candidates. Providing a vetting process, while leaving the ultimate decision to the General Assembly, is consistent with Virginia’s Constitution.
The judicial selection process is supposed to be above politics. The deal-making that produces judges is not done in the open air, rather in the bowels of the General Assembly building. The process is fraught with smoky-room politics. While I believe our process is superior to direct election of judges because of concerns about the influence of campaign contributions in the judiciary, the taint of blatant partisanship cannot be avoided when a small group of individuals make critical decisions with limited involvement of the public.
We can do better.
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