Since retiring from the high bench, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has repeatedly advocated against the use of elections to pick state judges. Now she is teaming with a center at the University of Denver to try to add some political teeth to her efforts.
On Thursday, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System announced the creation of the O'Connor Judicial Selection Initiative, a project that will assist state level efforts to move away from judicial elections.
The institute, founded in 2006 by former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis, will devote a full-time director to the project, backed by the institute's 10-person staff. The judicial selection initiative will also be aided by an 11-member advisory commission, which O'Connor will chair.
O'Connor said the initiative would provide "information and useful support" to states considering a move away from judicial elections.
"No other nation in the world elects their judges in popular elections," O'Connor said. "We are alone in that regard."
Calling the initiative a "think-do tank," Kourlis said the initiative was about moving beyond public education efforts. "This is all about, OK, in this particular state, what do we need to do to build a majority," said Kourlis, who is executive director of the institute.
She said its first major test would be in Nevada, where a proposed constitutional amendment would replace judicial elections with merit-based selection. It would also provide for judicial performance evaluations and retention votes.
The advisory committee includes:
• Chairwoman: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (retired)
• Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis of the Colorado Supreme Court (retired)
• Chief Justice Ruth McGregor of the Arizona Supreme Court (retired)
• Meryl Chertoff, director of the Sandra Day O'Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary at Georgetown Law
• Diane Gates Wallach of Cody Resources, liaison to the institute's board
• Mary Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters
• Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson of the Texas Supreme Court
• Chief Justice Thomas Moyer of the Ohio Supreme Court
• Ramona Romero, corporate counsel, logistics and energy, at DuPont
• Larry Thompson of PepsiCo
• H. Thomas Wells, past president of the American Bar Association
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.