I write to take exception to the op-ed about the nomination of Bill Montgomery to our state Supreme Court, written by Mark Harrison and published on Aug. 16. I do not know Harrison, but I have known Montgomery in various capacities for many years. Having written a graduate thesis on U.S. Supreme Court nominees and nominations, I’d also like to think I know something about judicial qualifications and history.
First, Harrison writes a great deal about the need for diversity on our Supreme Court – in a short op-ed, Harrison uses the word three times. Apparently, however, diversity only means the same experience most others have had with political viewpoints only Harrison shares – definitions of diversity new and unique to any dictionary. Indeed, it has been a longtime practice of many presidents to think diversity actually also
means diversity of experience and not exclusively appointing judges who see things through the lens or qualification of having been a judge on a lower court. This would be true of those who’ve made our judicial history as especially magnificent as it is, including great jurists from John Marshall to Louis Brandeis to Robert Jackson (whom Arizona’s own William Rehnquist clerked for). They, and many others, had not previously sat as judges prior to their service on the U.S. Supreme Court. Looking at the law, at various kinds of cases and controversies, simply does not require, and never did, prior judicial experience. After all, the vast majority of our nation’s law professors, those who teach the law, have rarely if ever sat as any kind of judge. Diversity should include diversity of experience and views of the law from various perches, not just one. Most presidents and historians (never mind law schools) have understood that.
Second, Harrison completely bypasses the last decade of good and noble work Montgomery has engaged in as a public servant. The fact that people have the luxury to forget the shape of county government when Montgomery first took office at the end of 2010 is a testament to how far he has brought the County Attorney’s Office and the dramatic shift in how county leaders now work together instead of sue each other. Additionally, the failure of the media to report on all the support, from past state bar presidents, criminal defense attorneys, formerly incarcerated offenders, and community leaders from various points on the political spectrum, permits critics to paint a false picture of Montgomery’s qualifications and accomplishments.
Finally, the focus on the new Commission on Appellate Court Appointments as the reason the governor can now appoint Montgomery should be seen as a correction, not a criticism. As one of the people listed as a reference for Montgomery, and the friend of several others, I can tell you that the biggest difference between the current composition of the Appellate Court Commission and the previous iteration was just how serious they took their work. During the previous vacancy, I was never contacted nor were many others. Had I been and had those who sent in letters of support been contacted, the various criticisms and concerns raised about Montgomery’s candidacy could have been readily addressed. This time, Commission members charged with doing their due diligence actually did their job. I was asked about a number of concerns that my personal experience with Montgomery gave me the opportunity to directly address. That should have happened the first time.
Fortunately, a much more thorough and fair review occurred during this current vacancy process and now Montgomery is where he should be, before the governor for consideration to serve us as an associate justice. Montgomery is a West Point Graduate, decorated Gulf War Veteran, magna cum laude graduate in the top 10% of his class from the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law, and a distinguished public servant who spends almost all his non-family free time assisting charitable endeavors. His service, his experience, his accomplishments, along with his commitment to transparency and access to the media and public, make him a perfect candidate for our State’s highest court.
Seth Leibsohn is a radio host on KKNT-AM, a senior fellow at The Claremont Institute and chairman of notMYkid.