Judicial Nominating Commission

Whenever a vacancy occurs on the bench, judicial nominating commissions should be the screening entity that accepts applications from potential judicial candidates and identifies a list of finalists for the Governor. Structure and composition of the commissions must provide a climate that fosters public confidence in the process while encouraging highly qualified candidates to apply. They must not be a political or partisan entity and should be representative of the community to be served by the judge.

Our recommendations for the elements that comprise an effective nominating commission are taken primarily from existing nominating commission processes that we offer as better practices:

  • To ensure the stability of the process, nominating commissions should be constitutionally based.
  • The number of nominating commissions in a state may vary, but at the very least, there should be an appellate nominating commission and one or more trial court nominating commissions.
  • Multiple appointing authorities should select nominating commission members. This bolsters public confidence in the commission’s independence by making it less likely that a majority of the members will be appointed by a single entity.
  • In order to assure that the public viewpoint is well represented, a nominating commission should include a majority of non-attorney members who have a range of professional backgrounds and personal experience. Nominating commissions must not be viewed as captive to attorney groups.
  • Nominating commissions should be balanced politically, ideologically, and demographically. Race/ethnic, gender, and geographical diversity among commission members should be encouraged, if not required.
  • Members of nominating commissions must receive training so that they understand their role, and the role, responsibilities, and duties of judicial officers.
  • Nominating commission proceedings should reflect openness and transparency, carefully balancing the applicants’ need for confidentiality with the public’s right to know.
  • The respective terms of commission members should be staggered so that no one leadership group has a predominant voice. Staggered terms also prevent complete turnover in the commission’s membership, which provides new members with the benefit of existing members’ experience and ensures rotation among appointing authorities.
  • There should be a default provision in place should the nominating commission fail to act.

Click here for a list of states that use nominating commissions to select judges.

Read more about judicial nominating commissions in Choosing Judges: Judicial Nominating Commissions and the Selection of Supreme Court Justices.