Judicial Nominating Commissions
The judicial nominating commission is the key to commission-based appointment, or “merit selection,” of state court judges. Nominating commissions are currently used in 30 states and the District of Columbia to choose judges, and while their selection, composition, and operation vary widely from state to state, these commissions are dedicated to achieving the same goals: ensuring a highly qualified judiciary, promoting public trust in that judiciary, and securing support for the judicial branch from the other two branches.
With the judicial nominating commission as the initial and, indeed, essential component of the O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan, the Quality Judges Initiative has undertaken extensive work in this area in the last few years. We began with a detailed report on why states adopted merit selection in the first place, how the structure and operation of nominating commissions differ across the country, and what some of the best practices appear to be in building public trust in the process. From there, we worked with our O’Connor Advisory Committee to identify broad-based goals and principles that provide a framework within which to establish a commission-based appointment process tailored to individual states. Most recently, in consultation with a working group of judges, lawyer and non-lawyer nominating commission members, and commission staffers, we developed model rules with accompanying commentary that address the ethical responsibilities and obligations of judicial nominating commissioners.
In 2016, IAALS organized a JNC Network made up of nominating commission chairs, members, and staff around the country. Facilitated primarily via an email listserv, the Network is a valuable tool for sharing information and resources relevant to the work of nominating commissions, as well as a useful forum for discussing challenges and potential solutions.