Beware of Do-Gooders Messing With Campaigns

January 25, 2013

Now that their scandal-plagued ally, Justice Diane Hathaway, has been ousted from the Supreme Court, left-leaning groups in Michigan masquerading as good government do-gooders are pushing the change the way Supreme Court Justices are selected in Michigan.  The Michigan Campaign Finance Network and the League of Women Voters have teamed up to hold four forums across the state in an effort to silence campaign free speech they find distasteful.
The proposals these groups are pushing were all spawned by Michigan’s Judicial Selection Task Force – a group comprised primarily of elite lawyers and Democratic Party activists, many of whom has long sought to shift the direction of the Supreme Court in a more liberal direction that the one preferred by voters.
According to the Task Force, the problem starts with voters themselves.  Ordinary citizens, the Task Force’s report claims, lack the “knowledge” to undertake the “basic task of determining what qualities are necessary to a successful Supreme Court justice.”  “Uninformed” voters lack “adequate time or training to study judicial candidates’ records,” which, the task force believes, leaves them susceptible to “noxious, distracting, and misleading” ads and turns democratic elections into a “farce.”
Even if you grant the task force’s premise that voters are too uneducated to select supreme court justices, which I don’t, it’s difficult to see how its many of its proposed reforms will address the problem.
Shifting judicial nominations from party conventions to “open, non-partisan primaries” for example, will do little to curtail campaign spending and tough television ads.  In fact, it might actually increase both.  Creating a do-good Campaign Oversight Committee to “monitor” campaign ads and “help limit debate to those issues” the committee deems should be relevant to voters is also likely to have little impact on the tone and tenor of judicial campaigns.
Which brings us to the real plan and true purpose – namely to serve as a stalking horse for the abolishment of democratic judicial elections and the adoption of a new judicial selection system known by its supporters as “merit” selection.
Under this scheme, which requires amending Michigan’s Constitution, a new commission would solicit applications from prospective jurists and review their qualifications, with no input from voters.  Afterwards, the commission would produce a list of approved nominees from which the governor must choose.  In other words, the power to pick judges would shift from the people and their elected representatives to an unelected, unaccountable commission dominated by lawyers.
Democratic judicial elections are certainly not perfect.  They can be messy, expensive, and negative.  But, unlike “merit” selection, they have the virtue of putting the people in charge, rather than an unelected, unaccountable commission.  And isn’t that what democracy is all about?

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