University of Denver

Ten Years of IAALS: The Courage to Build Consensus around Quality Judges

Chief Justice (Ret.), Alabama Supreme Court

IAALS is celebrating its 10th Anniversary in 2016. Throughout the year, we will be featuring guest posts from our colleagues and partners to recap our accomplishments and national impactand look to the future ahead. The full series of posts will be collected here.

"Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because, as has been said, 'it is the quality which guarantees all others.'" Winston Churchill

I agree with Churchill—who knew a thing or two about courage—that it is the quality that permits us to exercise whatever other virtues we possess. This is true for everyone, but especially for judges. No one can be a great judge, or even a good one, without the courage to do what what the law demands, even in the face of tremendous pressure to do otherwise.

We should, however, remember that, as James Madison wrote in Federalist #51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Similarly, if judges were paragons of courage and rectitude, there would be no need for laws and policies that establish and protect fair and impartial courts. But, being acutely aware that I and every other judge falls short of angelic status, I recognize the need to protect our courts from an ever-rising tide of money and politics that threatens to undermine public confidence in the judiciary. That is why I was so pleased to be actively engaged with IAALS’ Cornerstones of State Judicial Selection convening in 2012.

The Cornerstones convening brought together representatives of the plaintiff and defense bars, citizens involved in judicial nominating and evaluation processes, representatives from all three branches of government, members of the business community, and non-profit leaders, with the goal of laying the foundation for quality court systems and judges. The convening began by asking exactly the right question: what sort of judges and courts do our fellow citizens expect and need? With those attributes identified and agreed upon, the convening then turned to how to structure judicial selection systems to ensure we get these kinds of judges and courts. The convening’s broad consensus on these questions is laid out in the Cornerstones report.

The Cornerstones report that IAALS published offers a gold standard set of recommendations for each of the principal challenges facing our courts. From appointment methods to election procedures to judicial performance evaluation processes, the Cornerstones report offers a common ground on which all people of good faith can come together to debate and discuss how best to develop a judiciary and court systems that serve the needs of our people.

The remarkable group of leaders who came together to develop the Cornerstones report and recommendations continue to be active in this conversation, and I am proud to be a part of that. It is their depth of experience, diversity of backgrounds, and shared passion for justice that continue to make the Cornerstones report such a powerful tool for everyone concerned about our courts. Only such an amazing group could have developed so comprehensive and flexible a blueprint for reform.

Judges are not perfect profiles in courage or angels. Like everyone else, the institutions in which we work benefit when procedures are in place that protect us and those we serve from our all-too-human frailties. Cornerstones of State Judicial Selection is an important contribution to the effort to do just that, and I look forward to continuing my work with those who made it happen—first and foremost among them, IAALS and its Quality Judges Initiative. Their voice and presence in this national conversation is not only important, it is essential. The consensus they build among diverse stakeholders and their role in providing apolitical research and recommendations make them stand apart from the crowd.

We need judges and courts with the attributes identified at the Cornerstones convening. And we need IAALS and the Quality Judges Initiative to help get us there.

Mentioned Content 
This publication couples the desired attributes for court systems and individual judges identified by participants in the IAALS Roundtable on Judicial Selection with principles (or “cornerstones”) for judicial selection processes that are most likely to produce court systems and judges with these attributes.Read More