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Justice O'Connor's remarks at Elon Law rekindle statewide debate on judicial selection

After retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor spoke at Elon Law on March 8, several North Carolina newspapers editorialized in favor of her call to change the state's system of selecting judges.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor speaks with Elon Law students, March 8, 2010

O'Connor has advocated for appointive systems to select judges in states across the country in recent years.

She told Elon Law students this month that the United States is the only nation in the world where judges are elected, that the original colonies and states used appointive systems for judges, similar to those established for the federal courts in the U.S Constitution, and that the judicial system improved markedly in her home state of Arizona after an appointive system replaced elections there in 1974.

Click here for a complete report on O'Connor's remarks at Elon Law.

Citing O'Connor's remarks at the law school, the following newspapers published editorials in agreement with her call for change in the state's system for selecting judges. Excerpts from those editorials follow.

News & Record: O'Connor's latest role - March 10

"O'Connor faulted North Carolina for still choosing judges by election … she ought to return to pitch [the idea] to North Carolina legislative leaders. The biggest problem with judicial elections here, as elsewhere, is that few voters know enough about the courts or candidates to make reasoned, informed decisions. Elections leave to chance decisions that are too important to get wrong."

Charlotte Observer: N.C. judge elections are 'out in left field' – March 11

"It's time - past time, really - to drop [North Carolina's] antiquated method of choosing judges and return to the practice the nation's founders adopted in the U.S. Constitution."

News & Observer: Bench Strength – March 13

"North Carolina certainly improved its system with the public financing component, but even now judicial races sometimes become very political, and they are not supposed to be that. Judges should be selected on their experience, professional reputations and personal character. They should not campaign, for example, on promises to maintain the preferences of any special-interest group when it comes to the law."

Click on the E-Cast links to the right of this article to read each editorial in full.

Click here for a brief history of North Carolina's judicial selection debate, written by Elon Law professor Alan Woodlief, as well as opinion columns by Elon Law professors Andy Haile and Scott Gaylord, exploring the merits of appointive and electoral systems for selecting judges, respectively. 

Click here for a report on a public debate on judicial selection held at Elon Law in the fall, featuring Elon Law's Distinguished Jurist in Residence, James G. Exum, Jr., who served on the North Carolina Supreme Court for 20 years, and as Chief Justice of that court for eight years, and Elon Law professor Scott Gaylord.

Click on the links below to read news reports about Justice O'Connor's remarks at Elon Law:

Should North Carolina elect or appoint judges?
News & Observer – March 22

Justice O'Connor urges N.C. to dump judicial elections
North Carolina Lawyers Weekly - March 15

Should NC Elect Judges? - blog
Civitas Review Online - March 15

O'Connor says judges shouldn't be elected
News & Observer – March 10

O'Connor takes reform message to North Carolina
GavelGrab blog - March 10

Wednesday round-up
SCOTUSblog - March 10

Former Supreme Court justice: Election judges is a bad idea
Burlington Times News - March 9

O'Connor: N.C. shouldn't elect judges - blog
News & Observer – March 9

Retired justice still gives opinions
News & Record - March 9

Sandra Day O'Connor in fine form - blog
News & Record - March 8



Philip Craft,
8/22/2011 5:19 PM