Exploring approaches to selecting justices

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will keynote a forum at the Wayne State University Law School Tuesday, June 14, that will explore different approaches to selecting Michigan Supreme Court judges.

The forum is being sponsored by the Judicial Selection Task Force, chaired by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge James L. Ryan, Sixth Circuit.

O’Connor is the honorary chair of the task force.

The event is part of the Task Force’s study of methods of selection of Supreme Court justices in the 50 states, and evaluation of Michigan’s unique system of selecting supreme court justices.

O’Connor supports Arizona’s system of selection for supreme court justices, where a bipartisan nominating committee recommends a pool of qualified candidates from which the governor appoints justices to fill vacancies.

O’Connor has been critical of high-cost state judicial elections that undermine citizens trust in the impartiality of their courts.

Former Michigan Chief Justice Clifford W. Taylor will present an alternative perspective, in defense of an elected supreme court, as is the current practice in Michigan.
Other speakers during the forum will include:

• Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, and Robert LaBrant, general counsel of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, who will offer supreme court campaign practitioners’ perspectives on fundraising, advertising and opportunities for reform.

• Hugh Caperton, plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Caperton v. Massey Coal Company, who will offer a first-person account of a collision of due process rights and free speech rights, and campaign spending as a threat to impartial courts.

• Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, on Michigan’s failure of campaign finance accountability in supreme court campaigns.

• David Rottman of the National Center for State Courts, on campaign conduct committees as a mechanism for safeguarding truth in judicial election campaigning.

• Rebecca Kourlis, former justice of the Colorado Supreme Court and executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, on judicial performance evaluations as a tool for voter information.

“The Judicial Selection Task Force is examining Michigan’s system for selecting Supreme Court justices in the national context, and we’re looking for best practices from many perspectives,” said Kelly. “On this occasion, we’re inviting the interested public to hear from some of the experts who will be informing our work.”

“We have assembled a diverse group of speakers who represent a broad range of perspectives,” said Ryan. “Our goal for the task force is to propose practical ways to improve the process and we believe the perspectives we will hear at the forum will help us do that.”

When the task force was announced in December, O’Connor said she agreed to serve as honorary co-chair because “Judicial independence is critical to our system of government.  There has to be one safe place, a place where being right is more important than being popular, where fairness trumps strength.  In our country, that place is the courtroom.  But that is true only so long as we keep political influences and cash out of the courtroom.”

Advance registration is required for the forum.

Interested persons can register online through the League of Women Voters of Michigan at www.lwvmi.org.

A $10 registration fee will cover parking and a box lunch for attendees. Registrations will be limited by space considerations.


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