Brennan Center Urges Arizona Court to Reject New Judicial Merit Selection Law

August 8, 2013

The Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake filed an amicus brief this week in support of a petition asking the Arizona Supreme Court to overturn a law that changes the selection process for judicial candidates. 

For the last four decades, Arizona has successfully used the “merit selection” process for nominating judicial candidates. In this system, a commission provides at least three qualified candidates to the governor for appointment to the state’s appellate and Superior Courts. The process is widely regarded as model for successfully producing excellent judges.

An attempt to change this system by referendum failed last November. This spring, however, the Arizona legislature approved a bill, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer into law, which requires the commission to nominate at least five judicial candidates—a move many say will allow the governor to appoint less-qualified judges.

“In addition to the constitutional harm caused by overriding the voters’ clearly-expressed wishes, the enactment of legislation increasing the governor’s influence over the makeup of the judiciary risks violating fundamental separation of powers principles,” wrote Matt Menendez, Counsel at the Brennan Center, in the brief. “It also risks undermining the public’s confidence in the independence of the judiciary in the process—which itself raises independent constitutional concerns."

The brief is a product of the Fair Courts Litigation Task Force, a coalition of groups that use litigation to protect fair and impartial courts. The coalition includes the Brennan Center, Justice at Stake, The Campaign Legal Center, The National Center for State Courts, and the American Judicature Society. Check out the task force's new website at www.faircourtslitigation.org .

  • Read the amicus brief here.

For more information on the brief or the website, contact Seth Hoy at seth.hoy@nyu.edu or 646-292-8369.