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Gov. Ducey sticks to spirit of merit selection, shuns partisanship

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The Arizona Republic recently tweeted: “Why is Governor Ducey largely rejecting Democrats as judges?” The answer: he is not. Ducey has been the least partisan of any governor with respect to the appointment of judges under our merit selection system.  The linked-to Op Ed sub-headline is: “Judges should be selected on their merit, diversity and independence, not their partisan background.”  In my opinion, of any governor in Arizona history, Democrat or Republican, Ducey has been the most faithful to the goals of merit selection. Merit selection under Ducey has never been less partisan or more inclusive.

I am a retired Maricopa County Superior Court commissioner and Latina legal community leader. I’ve been a member of Los Abogados, the Hispanic Bar Association for 20 years and I serve as one of the Region XIV deputy vice presidents for the National Hispanic Bar Association. For more than 10 years, I have co-coordinated the Latina Mentoring Project, the largest mentoring and pipeline program of its kind in Arizona with over 200 mentor and mentee participants. I respectfully disagree with the opinion’s central premise.

Mina Mendez

Mina Mendez

A review of the judicial appointment statistics maintained by the Arizona Supreme Court shows that Governor Ducey has appointed more judges outside of his political party than any other former Arizona governor under merit selection. On November 28, 2016, Ducey made history by appointing the first Latino ever to the Arizona Supreme Court, Justice John Lopez. On April 25, 2019, Governor Ducey made history again, by appointing a second Latino to the Arizona Supreme Court, Justice Jim Beene.

Women make up 37 percent of Ducey’s appointments, the highest of any Arizona governor. This is true for his appointments to both the trial and appellate courts. On April 10, 2017, Ducey appointed Judge Maria Elena Cruz (a Democrat and former Yuma County presiding judge) and Judge Jennifer Campbell to two vacancies on Division One of the Arizona Court of Appeals. On September 29, 2017, he appointed a third woman, Judge Jennifer Perkins.

Historically, Arizona’s governors almost never ventured outside of their own political party with appellate court appointments. For example, Gov. Jan Brewer appointed 10 appellate judges, all Republicans. Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed 12 appellate judges, all Democrats. Ducey’s first-term appointment of Judge Cruz to the Court of Appeals is the first out-of-party appointment to the appellate courts, going back almost 20 years to Gov. Jane Hull’s administration.

Arizona started appointing judges under the merit selection system in 1975. From 1975 to 2015 (Gov. Raul Castro to Brewer), seven of Arizona’s nine governors appointed judges from their political party between 72 percent and 100 percent of the time. Gov. Wesley Bolin, who served from October 1977 to March 1978, appointed two merit selection judges, one a Democrat and the other a Republican. Hull, a Republican, appointed Republicans 64 percent of the time.

The statistics show Ducey has recommitted the state to nonpartisan and diverse appointments, with merit (and not party) as the primary consideration. His appointments have been the least partisan – only 61 percent of his judicial appointments have been Republicans. By contrast, Governor Brewer appointed only two Democrats to the Maricopa County Superior Court during her tenure. Notably, on January 3, 2018, Governor Ducey appointed three Democrats to the Maricopa County Superior Court on the same day and has appointed 14 Democrats and 11 Independents to positions statewide in just his first term.

As for diversity, Ducey’s appointments to date are already among the most diverse – 18 percent of his appointments have been minorities, second only to Napolitano at 23 percent. Arizona’s seven other governors appointed minorities between zero percent and 16 percent of the time.

Likewise, the nominating commissions have not injected partisanship into the nominating process. Qualified applicants, regardless of partisan affiliation, are forwarded to the governor.

(Full disclosure: Ducey appointed my husband to the Maricopa County Superior Court Nominating Commission and he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.) Indeed, the Appellate Court Commission sent up the name of every Democrat and every diverse candidate who applied to fill the last Supreme Court vacancy.

Misleading or factually inaccurate attacks on merit selection undermine the public’s confidence in the judiciary. Ducey’s appointments have been the least partisan and the most diverse of any governor, Democrat or Republican.

Mina Mendez is a retired Superior Court commissioner and runs a statewide mentoring program for Latina law students and lawyers.

 

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