As a former Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and a current member of the IAALS Board of Advisors, I commend Governor Maggie Hassan for her wisdom in establishing the Judicial Selection Commission to advise her in filling vacancies on our state’s courts. According to Governor Hassan’s executive order, “the highest quality of appointments to judicial office can best be assured by the use of a Judicial Selection Commission to aid the Governor in the exercise of the Governor’s power and authority.”
I agree and I believe that the use of such a commission serves additional purposes as well. For those with judicial aspirations, it creates a climate that encourages highly qualified individuals to apply. For the public, it fosters trust and confidence in the nominating process and in the judiciary as a whole. It can achieve these purposes because it ensures that political considerations take a back seat to qualifications, experience, and judicial potential in selecting judges.
Governor, now U.S. Senator, Jeanne Shaheen (1997 – 2003) was the first New Hampshire governor to create, on her own initiative, a nominating commission to assist her in performing one of her most important roles—appointing judges. In fact, Governor Shaheen’s initiative was well received and there was a legislative effort to make the commission permanent. Although that effort failed, Governor John Lynch created a judicial nominating commission in 2005, following the Shaheen model. Current Governor Maggie Hassan has continued the commission in her effort to find the best qualified candidates for each judicial vacancy. It has served New Hampshire well.
IAALS—the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, on whose Board of Advisors I serve—works through its Quality Judges Initiative to recommend empirically informed models for choosing, evaluating, and retaining judges that preserve judicial impartiality and promote judicial accountability. As part of this effort, IAALS has developed principles for judicial nominating commissions that encourage representative and balanced membership on such commissions and an open and public screening process. These principles can serve to guide the formation and operation of nominating commissions even in states where judges are elected, since the governor makes all vacancy appointments. If structured properly, a commission-based appointment process in any system can ensure the selection of an impartial, transparent, and highly trusted judiciary—as we have and will continue to have in New Hampshire.