March 16, 2005
A deal worked out between conservative groups and judges will give state senators some say for the first time about who sits on the state’s high court and some lower ones.
The proposal would give the Senate 60 days to review the choices of the governor for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and the superior courts of Pima and Maricopa counties.
Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, RChandler, said that will give lawmakers some input into who rules on the constitutionality of the law approved by the Legislature. He said the current system results in courts filled with judges who are disconnected from the public.
Tibshraeny said the proposal, set for Senate debate today, is structured to prevent the kind of political games played in Washington where a president’s choices can be held up forever due to inaction. This plan would put a judicial nominee on the bench if the Senate does not act within 60 days.
It would not, however, eliminate all politics: Senators still could query nominees about their judicial philosophies — and even ask them about their stance about hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage and the legality of taxpayer funds for vouchers for private and parochial school tuition.
But Cathi Herrod, who lobbies for the Center for Arizona Policy, said she doesn’t believe senators would ask — or judicial candidates should answer — questions about how they would rule in specific cases.
Even if approved by lawmakers, the final word would be up to voters next year whether to give senators some input — something that has never existed in Arizona.
Colin Campbell, presiding judge of Maricopa County Superior Court, said the plan is acceptable because it retains the merit selection process. That limits a governor’s choice for the bench to those applicants approved by a special screening panel and prevents awarding judgeships based solely on friendship
and political support.
But not everyone is happy with the deal.
Charles Jones, chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, said it will infringe on the independence of the process.
Tibshraeny said that’s the intent. He said the current system leaves the public out of the process.
He said judges stand for "re-election’’ on a regular basis. But their names are listed on the ballot with a yesor-no option, with no one actually running against them to say what kind of job they have done.