Thursday, April 30, 2009
Picking Our Robed Masters
In Virginia, all trial-level judges are selected by the local legislative delegation, which forwards the names to the General Assembly, which routinely votes to appoint the candidate selected by the local delegation. When a vacancy occurs or the delegation cannot agree, the governor can make interim appointments.
Re-appointment (at 8-year terms for circuit judges and 6-years for district judges) is usually routine and automatic by vote of the General Assembly. Occasionally, but rarely, a sitting judge will not be re-appointed if there has been egregious incompetence.
While the system of picking judges in Virginia is in my view highly preferable to direct election by the public (see some examples of judicial electioneering here), there is much to be said for efforts to reform the back-room dealmaking that too often occurs in the selection process.
Now enough discontent has surfaced among the public that a group calling itself the Pitchfork Rebellion is seeking to change the way judges are selected and re-appointed.
Apparently the group seeks transparency in the selection process and term limits (judges currently can be re-appointed indefinitely until age 70).
While it is a worthy idea to open the selection process up to public scrutiny, term limits are a bad idea in my view, since there are many capable and experienced judges and there is no reason they should not serve indefinitely, subject always, of course, to the scrutiny and re-appointment vote of the General Assembly at 6 or 8 year intervals.