Legislature & The Law
Appointed or Elected? Legislators to Consider Judicial Selection Proposals From the Oregon Law Commission Fear that campaign donors could start funneling large amounts of money into Oregon statewide judicial elections is at the heart of several judicial selection proposals being considered by a work group of the Oregon Law Commission, housed at Willamette University College of Law. Lawmakers are expected to take up the proposals before the 2013 Legislature adjourns in June. Led by former Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz JD’75, one of Willamette’s Distinguished Jurists-inResidence, the work group is evaluating several alternatives to the current system of electing appellate judges. One would limit the number of elections by extending the term length of appellate judges to 10 years from six. Other proposals would eliminate elections by giving appointment authority to the governor. In some cases that authority would be limited by requiring the governor to choose from a list of candidates proposed by a special commission. In other cases, the governor’s choice would have to
“We tried to get rid of electing assessors in 1973 and people put up one heck of a fight.” be confirmed by either the commission or the Oregon State Senate. In some proposals, a retention election at the end of a judge’s term would continue to allow direct public involvement, although many work group members remain concerned about the influence of special interest money in
Edwin J. Peterson, Paul De Muniz and Wallace P. Carson Jr.
retention elections. Any final work group proposals would need to be approved by the full Law Commission before being submitted to the Legislature. “Our system isn’t broken; we have an excellent judiciary,” says De Muniz. “But there was a consensus that there is a dark cloud looming. What can we do to make sure that specialinterest financing of judicial elections doesn’t turn into a nuclear war like it has in other states and erode public confidence in the judiciary?” De Muniz, who has written and lectured widely about judicial selection, says the infusion of big money into judicial races in other states means that Oregonians should consider a system of judicial appointment. The large work group he convened includes members with differing viewpoints, such as Wallace P. Carson Jr. JD’62, who was Oregon’s Supreme Court chief justice before De Muniz.
10 | Willamette Lawyer
At an Inns of Court debate in January, Carson said he doesn’t think Oregonians will give up their right to elect judges. “We tried to get rid of electing assessors in 1973 and people put up one heck of a fight,” he said. “I don’t think people are ready to make a change, and I don’t want to be ahead of the curve on this one.” Added Distinguished Jurist-in-Residence Edwin J. Peterson, another former Oregon Supreme Court chief justice: “When you have a contested election, it makes you get out and talk to people. That’s an important point we should not lose sight of.” A change to remove elections would require a constitutional amendment and a vote of the people. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia use merit selection to choose at least some judges, according to a study on judicial selection by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.