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IAALS Online National Conversations About Continuous Improvement of the American legal System

Toward Impartial and Accountable Judges

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Posted in Featured, Informed Opinions, Quality Judges

For the last several years, I have worked closely with IAALS and the Advisory Committee to its Quality Judges Initiative to promote processes for selecting and retaining state judges that inspire public trust in our courts and the integrity of their decisions.

Today, I am pleased to share with you the O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan. The O’Connor Plan is a four-part recommended process for selecting and retaining state court judges. The Plan calls for a judicial nominating commission to screen applicants and identify the best qualified candidates, appointment by the governor of one of those candidates, broad-based and objective evaluation of judges’ performance on the bench, and periodic retention elections in which voters have access to judicial performance evaluation results and are able to vote for or against the sitting judge.

With this publication, we offer recommendations for structuring each stage of this selection process to encourage highly qualified individuals to apply for judgeships, assure that the best judicial candidates are selected and retained, and engender support for the judiciary from the other two branches of government. These recommendations are based on IAALS’ and other research.

In recent years, I have been distressed to see persistent efforts in some states to politicize the bench and the role of our judges. This Plan is a step toward developing systems that prioritize the qualifications and impartiality of judges, while still building in tools for accountability through an informed election process. Our recommendations here can help states set a course toward improving and refining their processes, and, ultimately, strengthening their judiciary. We all must seek to achieve those goals, because the courts are the bulwark of our democracy and we can ill afford to see them undermined.