If you already turned in your ballot, I hope you completed it, front and back. If you’re headed to the polls, I’d urge you to take the time to consider every spot on the ballot. Don’t skip the judges.
I understand you probably have never heard of most of them. We rarely hear about Superior Court judges, for example. And your experience inside a courtroom might be limited to (hopefully) just jury duty. On the question of whether to retain a judge, most of us are what pollsters might refer to as “low information” voters.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As Chief Justice John Roberts said at his confirmation hearing, “Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.” Just like referees and umpires applying the rules, we want judges applying the law fairly and consistently.
Arizona’s method for determining who serves on the bench is a smart one, and it’s one that you won’t find in every state. Under our retention and merit selection system, the governor makes judicial appointments to appeals courts and to trial courts in Maricopa, Pima, Coconino, and Pinal counties after considering recommendations from a judicial nominating commission. Once appointed, however, judges do not serve lifetime terms like they would at the federal level. Here they must occasionally stand for retention.
It’s a wise system. It combines public accountability without high-pitched partisan politics and things like party primaries or nonstop campaign fundraising. You haven’t gotten any junk mail from the three state Supreme Court justices up for retention saying ridiculous things about their opponents. Our system avoids turning judges into what former Supreme Court Justice and Arizona icon Sandra Day O’Connor called “politicians in robes.”
That’s another reason why I urge everyone to finish their ballot: it’s a small but important gesture to strengthen the faith and credibility of the judicial system. Justice O’Connor’s worry that judges would be perceived as just another category of cynical politicians is a legitimate one; it erodes Americans’ belief that they can get a fair shake under the law.
But there’s an activist class that wants to undermine Americans’ faith in the judiciary. We see it whenever a court issues a ruling some special interest group might disagree with. Instead of arguing their position on the merits or vowing to try again to change law or working to elect new members of the legislative branch, they throw into question judges’ motivations or ethics, tossing around words like illegitimate or corrupt.
Much like irresponsibly denying the outcome of an election without evidence, attacks against the judicial system have a corrosive effect, turning the noble pursuit of equal justice under law into a cynical game for insiders, political activists, and internet trolls.
It’s rare that an Arizona judge isn’t retained. That’s how it should be. We don’t want judges to become known for an approach that falls far outside the mainstream or for questionable conduct, after all. But the decision is ultimately up to us. We vote for the governor who makes the appointments, and we vote whether to retain judges in their current positions.
So, don’t skip the judges. Your vote to retain our judges is a vote to preserve a trusted, impartial, and fair judicial branch.
Danny Seiden is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry.