Merit Selection Not so Meritorious?

Intriguing article in the Wall Street Journal on merit selection of judges, and John Grisham’s latest novel, (HT to PA Clean Sweep), that is timely given the push for merit selection in PA.

The model preferred by Messrs. Soros and Grisham is known to fans as “merit selection,” a method already in use in more than 20 states in some form. Under this plan, an appellate judicial commission selects a slate of judges from which the governor must choose. Intended to keep politics out of judicial appointments, judicial commissions have become agents of politicization themselves, steadily tilting state court systems to the left.

Power inevitably comes to reside in the hands of the state’s trial lawyers, who end up sitting on the commission. And that means lawyers pick the judges before whom their cases will appear — a conflict apparently lost on Mr. Grisham, a former trial lawyer himself. One of the most heated battles has been in Missouri, where three of the judicial commission’s seven spots are held by trial lawyers with specialties in medical malpractice, personal injury and product liability. …

In a result that might surprise Mr. Grisham, a 2007 Harvard study actually found that judges who are elected directly by voters are overall less corrupt than those who win their robes through other methods of selection. Direct election may raise concerns about campaign contributions and the appearance of influence, but it also has the virtue of accountability to the electorate. Though judges in Missouri stand for so-called “retention” elections, these are little more than uncontested pageants. Judges already have the weight of incumbency on their side by the time they face the voters — and it shows. No appellate court judge has ever lost a retention election in Missouri.