The conservative principle of eliminating judicial merit selection now has a poster child for Sen. Ron Gould, a Lake Havasu City Republican, who on Jan. 31 filed a stack of proposals to change how Arizona chooses its judges.
The recent work of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments in choosing nominees for the Independent Redistricting Commission is a prime example of the political gamesmanship and bias that comes with merit selection, Gould said.
The appellate commission usually screens applicants to fill vacancies on the Arizona Court of Appeals and Arizona Supreme Court.
“If this is the kind of games they are going to play with the redistricting commission,” Gould said, “I’m assuming they’re playing the same kind of games with the selection of judges.”
Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch said in an e-mail that the commission did an exhaustive review of all IRC applicants, and the entire process was transparent with applications posted online and meetings open to the public.
Gould said the commission “gamed” the slate of IRC Republican candidates by originally choosing only one non-Maricopa County resident. After an Arizona Supreme Court ruling, a second non-Maricopa resident made the list of 10 Republican candidates for the IRC.
But Gould was especially peeved at the screening commission over one member who was troubled by a religious reference on the application of a prospect for the Independent Redistricting Commission.
“Now we’ve actually got an example where they showed bias against somebody,” Gould said.
After a Republican uproar in December led by House Speaker Kirk Adams and Senate President Russell Pearce, that member, Louis Araneta, resigned over his comment.
Adams also suggested that the choices of prospective judges by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments might be tainted.
Gould took it to another level, filing four concurrent resolutions that alter the composition or functions of the screening commissions. There are also commissions for choosing superior court judges in Pima and Maricopa counties.
Rep. Jack Harper, a Republican from Surprise, who introduced a proposal in the House to get rid of the screening commissions and go to the federal model of executive appointment followed by Senate confirmation, said he thinks the resentment toward the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments will create momentum for change.
But Harper added the retirement of entrenched Republican lawmakers who are cozy with the courts will make the bigger difference.
“As more ideological Republicans come in,” Harper said, “it’s easier to pass these kinds of issues.”