Voters Should Select Judges

With two upcoming vacancies on the Idaho Supreme Court it is time once again to debate the merits of appointing vs electing justices to the highest court in Idaho.

Whenever there is an unscheduled vacancy, the seven member judicial council sends a list of names to the guv who appoints a replacement. The council is comprised of 3 politicos appointed by the guv and 3 lawyers appointed by the Idaho State Bar. The sitting chief justice is an ex-officio member. The members serve for 6 year terms. There is a formula to the membership statute designed to insure a political and geographical diversity.

Supreme court justices theoretically stand for election, but they are savvy enough to resign or retire off the election cycle to allow the guv a chance to put his choices on the court…circumventing the election process. Then a justice runs as an incumbent.

Chief Justice Gerald Schroeder and justice Linda Copple Trout have both recently announced their impending retirements.

Trout was quoted in the Daily Paper as favoring a constitutional amendment to create a system allowing the guv to appoint justices and then allow the public to vote YES or NO to retain the justices. We have that system for lower court magistrates now.

She said the “Biggest problem is people don’t know how to make a good choice on who would make a good judge.”

The GUARDIAN is a strong advocate of citizen government and we find her remarks a bit insensitive. The same people whose abilities she questions to select a good judge , are the ones who determine guilt of innocence of murder suspects, hold the power of life or death of those convicted, determine liability of corporations in complex civil suits, and elect the governors she wants to appoint the judges. They are called JURORS and CITIZENS.

Given Trout’s argument that people don’t know a good judge, how would they be any better informed to retain a sitting judge?

Distasteful as politics may be, we favor citizen involvement in the selection of judges at all levels, but especially at the level of the Supremes.

As a compromise, how about at the very least ELECTING the judicial council with 3 reps from each of the seven geographical judicial districts in the state? That would give us 21 members to prevent undue influence by any interest group. With some fine tuning, this proposal could serve the best interests of all concerned.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. I for one think Judge Linda has a point about the voters not knowing how to pick a good judge. Perhaps she was referring to the class acts the voters picked in Idaho for politicians. How about Bill Sali for Idaho Supreme Court Justice?

  2. I find it ironic that Justice Trout would dis the very electorate that saw through the nasty campaign tactics and re-elected her last time. The quote is unfortunate and politically unwise, displaying an elitism that tends to provide ammunition to the myriad groups that assail the judiciary out of ignorance and/or frustration. Its a slap in the face to Justice Eismann and other members of the judiciary that have their position through the electoral process.

    It is also somewhat accurate. I’m often asked for whom to vote in judicial elections because I work in the Court system and these folks express often how they have no clue for whom to vote. I do subscribe to the notion of representative democracy allowing a few people who are paid to become informed and make selections based upon the best information available. I find that system to be more efficient and reliable than forcing the masses to make the decision based upon a series of 30 second sound bites.

  3. I believe the Judicial Council should be appointed by the Governor and/or Legislature. Electing them would also be something I could support. I also believe the Governor has a constitutional right to appoint any qualified candidate outside of the list submitted by the Judicial Council.

    I have long been repulsed and offended by how insular and arrogant the Idaho State Bar and judiciary is towards the public. They are truly Ivory Tower types who think non-attorneys are too stupid to know how to vote. I also believe there are a number of good judges and lawyers who are cowed by their leadership into not saying anything publicly that does not further the party line.

  4. I have to agree that the average citizen would not know a good judge on a ballot ticket, I usually don’t and I keep up fairly well with politics.

    I don’t think comparing being on a jury to selecting a judge is a fair comparison. I can sit on a jury, listen to the arguments, discuss the facts with my fellow jurors and then make an educated decision. Just because I can make a reasoned decision based on the facts doesn’t mean I can pick a good judge when I don’t really know anything about them.

  5. While I generally favor a public vote on *everything* (How about president, developments, etc.), I have mixed emotions on this one.
    I try to follow court cases more carefully than a lot of people do, just because I find them fascinating, but still have very little knowledge about many of the judges out there who might be considered for the highest court.
    I don’t think we want to turn the judicial selection process into a beauty pageant or a who-can-tell-the-biggest-lies competition, as too many other elections have become. (Hi, I’m judge Joe Glick. Vote for me for justice, and I’ll lock up everybody you don’t like and solve all your other problems, too.)
    So the big question is: How can the media (our eye and ears out there) better inform the public about each judge, how fairly he or she handles cases, or whatever?

  6. I read those comments this morning and they made me think that maybe she was a little elitist and condescending.

    But I thought about it for a few and I see that I’m not alone when I say that they are somewhat true. How do you know which way a judge thinks? We seldom are presented with a record of decisions. Much like our mayor, you can get elected on name recogntion alone. Perhaps it might be best if the Governor made the choice…. I do think there should be some input from citizens at large, but when you get stuck with a bad judge, bad things can happen………

  7. Unlike the direct election of a judge, selection of a jury follows a process that weeds out those who would not be fair, have a prejudice, have made up their minds on issues, etc. The suggestion of the Guardian that the general public should elect a judge because they can sit on a jury doesn’t seem like an exact parallel or justification to me.

    EDITOR NOTE–Your logic is flawed dear friend. Justice Trout, not I, questioned the ability of the public to be knowledgable enough to select a judge.

    The public is no more knowledgable to retain an appointed judge. The GUARDIAN has suggested an elected panel of 3 citizens to include 1 attorney from each judicial district to sit on the judicial council which now has 1 judge, 3 lawyers and 3 politicos to select lawyers to be judges. Insider trading at best–the general public is voiceless.

  8. Sorry. I incorrectly interpreted her comments as being backed by your comments. A process that provides appointment after close scrutiny by a group specifically given that responsibility very well might work better.

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