An antiabortion, antigaming, religious rights group is working to pressure Gov. Janet Napolitano not to appoint a political ally to the state’s high court.
The Center for Arizona Policy says William Scott Bales, the likely front-runner of the three nominees, is a "Democratic Party activist and a Napolitano crony who has followed her from job to job for years.’’
Bales worked for Napolitano when she was the U.S. Attorney for Arizona and later, in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office when she held that post.
But the organization, which sent e-mails to 8,000 supporters, is hoping to do more than affect who sits on the state’s high court: It hopes to use Bales’ nomination to pressure lawmakers into scrapping the current system for selecting judges.
Currently, the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments drafts a list of nominees from which the governor must choose, under the state constitution.
Cathi Herrod, the group’s lobbyist, said her organization wants the kind of system that exists for federal courts where the president gets to choose whomever he wants, subject only to Senate confirmation.
Herrod acknowledged that process also has its drawbacks, such as the stalemate created on some nominees by the threat of a Senate filibuster. Herrod said that’s why she supports a slightly modified proposal: If the state Senate doesn’t act on a nomination within 60 days, the judge would automatically be confirmed.
The problem, Herrod said, is the "merit selection’’ process voters approved in 1974. Before that, judges ran for office like other politicians.
Under the current system, special panels chosen by the governor with Senate confirmation screen applicants for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and the superior courts of Pima and Maricopa counties.
Whoever the governor picks from the list of nominees automatically takes the bench.
Herrod said the change has not eliminated politics from the system but simply hidden it from voters.
"We’re getting liberal judges, regardless of who’s governor,’’ she said.
That is why her organization, while working against Bales, refused to endorse either of the other two nominees: Court of Appeals Judge Ann Scott Timmer, a Republican, or Democrat Colin Campbell, presiding judge of Maricopa County Superior Court.
But Herrod made it clear that she considers Bales the worst of the lot.
During hearings of the court commission earlier this week, all six applicants were asked if they agree with a statement that judges should never let their own morality affect the outcome of a case. Five of the nominees said they did; Bales said you can’t draw such a sharp line.
He said a judge’s personal opinion should not affect the outcome if the law or constitutional provision is clear.
"But I think there are many situations where judges face questions that aren’t answered by just reference to a text,’’ he said. "And in those circumstances I think a judge should be guided by his or her morality.’’
"He didn’t do anything to raise the comfort level that he believed that the role of the judge is to interpret the law, not make the law,’’ Herrod said. "Nothing gave any confidence that he wouldn’t be an activist judge who would tend to make the law.’’
Bales rejected the label of being an activist Democrat, saying he also has done work — and successfully — for a number of Republicans. That includes defending the decision by then-Gov. Jane Hull in 2002 to sign gaming compacts with some Indian tribes.
Gubernatorial press aide Jeanine L’Ecuyer said Napolitano supports the merit selection process. As to the Center for Arizona Policy, she said the governor gets lobbied by lots of groups.