Justices Taylor, Day O’Connor, go toe-to-toe on judicial selection

I never thought I’d see the day that I’d see such a collection of really smart people – who strongly disagree with each other – gathered in one place. But I will. That day will be June 14, and the place will be Wayne State University Law School, where retired justices of U.S. Supreme Court and Michigan Supreme Court, political leaders, and the plaintiff from the highly publicized Caperton v. Massey Coal Co. will gather to discuss reforms in judicial selection.

Retired United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will keynote the forum, and offering a counterpoint to her advocacy of judicial selection reform will be former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford W. Taylor.

O’Connor was in Michigan in February 2010 to participate in a symposium hosted by the American Board of Trial Advocates and Wayne State University Law School. At that time, she was spreading the word that it’s time for states like Michigan to consider the possibility that popular elections may be dangerous to justice. She noted that the 2009 Caperton v. Massey and the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission shine a light on the potential for money to have a corrupting effect on judicial elections.

The June event will be the first time Taylor will participate in this type of event – one that discusses reforming judicial selection – for the simple reason that he isn’t generally invited to participate.

“I don’t believe in merit selection,” Taylor said. “And I don’t usually participate in these kinds of things because they’ve historically not been interested in having anyone with a second view present their side.”
He makes it clear that he doesn’t like the idea of merit selection of appellate judges, and he doesn’t believe that it’s really “merit” selection to begin with.

“They’re only looking at it in the appellate courts. And the truth is, you don’t get many bums applying to be on Court of Appeals or Supreme Court,” Taylor said. “So if everyone who wants to serve is qualified, and they are, then you’re not selecting them based on their merits. You’re selecting them on the basis of something else. What does the selection panel resort to? Their opinions on controversial matters.”
He also makes no bones about his opinion that merit selection is elitist.

“The voters are informed as they want to be,” Taylor said. “And the system has worked pretty well.
Other speakers will include:

  • Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, and Robert LaBrant of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, who will offer Supreme Court campaign practitioners’ perspectives on fundraising, advertising and opportunities for reform.
  • Hugh Caperton, plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case Caperton v. Massey Coal Co., who will offer a first-person account of how due process rights and free speech rights collide.
  • Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, who will speak about what he calls Michigan’s failure of campaign finance accountability in Michigan Supreme Court campaigns.
  • David Rottman of the National Center for State Courts.
  • Rebecca Kourlis, former justice of the Colorado Supreme Court and executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.

The event will be sponsored by the Judicial Selection Task Force, chaired by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly and Senior Judge James L. Ryan of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Advance registration is required for the forum. You can register online through the League of Women Voters of Michigan website at http:www.lwvmi.org. A $10 registration fee will cover parking and box lunch.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s