A Look at Judicial Nominating Commissions—The Key to Selecting High-Quality Judges

Earlier this month, Law Week Colorado published an article highlighting IAALS' report Choosing Judges: Judicial Nominating Commissions and the Selection of Supreme Court Justices. An outgrowth of the O'Connor Judicial Selection Plan, the report examines why judicial nominating commissions are established in the first place, how their structure and operation differ across the nation, and what some of the best practices might be in building public trust in the process.

Commission-based judicial appointment systems, of which the nominating commission is the key component, were created as an alternative to elections, where politics can often overshadow a judicial candidate's qualifications and experience. In the last seventy years, more than half of states have established a judicial nominating commission to assist in the selection of high-quality supreme court justices, and several more are considering adopting such a process.

"We think [judicial nominating commissions are] a preferable alternative to choosing justices from elections,” said Malia Reddick, Consultant for the Quality Judges Initiative. “Justices are different from other public officials. They're not like governors or legislators who are expected to respond to the will of the people. Judges don't have constituents."

Ultimately, a perfect system for selecting judges is hard to achieve, but states can shape their nominating commissions in a way that amplifies transparency and creates an atmosphere where both lawyers and non-lawyers have their voices heard. “Best practices for states include making sure the commission's rules are made public along with information on the commissioners, the names of likely candidates, and the names of any candidates selected by the commission and recommended for appointment.”

Click here to read more about how judicial nominating commissions are used throughout the United States.

Judicial nominating commissions are the first step in IAALS' O'Connor Judicial Selection Plan. The other parts of the plan are gubernatorial appointment, judicial performance evaluations, and retention elections.