Thursday, December 3, 2009

Some AJS views on judicial selection

Sent: 12/1/2009 9:33:29 A.M. Central Standard Time
Subj: RE: Inquiry regarding AJS membership

Mr. Shattuck:

I appreciate your continuing interest in the work of AJS. Regarding your stated intention to engage other members of the Society in discussions about policy matters, there are some opportunities to do so through mechanisms such as letters to the editor of our journal, Judicature. We do not currently host any blogs or online discussion boards, although we may do so in the future. Out of respect for the privacy of our members, we do not share membership lists.

Regarding the areas of judicial independence and judicial selection that you mention below, you should know that AJS has advocated for commission-based appointment and retention of judges (also known as “merit selection”) since 1917, when Professor Albert Kales of Northwestern University Law School, a co-founder of the Society, developed the first model for commission-based appointment of state judges. AJS has supported the expansion of commission-based appointive systems and retention elections across the country, beginning in Missouri in 1940. The Society convened more than 100 state-based citizens conferences on judicial reform from the 1950s through the 1970s, which helped pave the way for the adoption of merit selection systems in several dozen states. Currently, 35 states and the District of Columbia use some form of merit selection to fill some or all vacancies on the bench. Much more information on judicial selection methods and issues is available at our comprehensive Judicial Selection in the States website:

AJS believes that recent criticisms of judicial nominating commissions by the Wall Street Journal and other entities are off the mark. The Journal has editorialized on this topic several times in the past few years, maintaining without any empirical evidence that judicial nominating commissions in many states are dominated by the plaintiffs trial bar. AJS has studied judicial nominating commissions extensively and provides balanced, nonpartisan training and orientation programs for members of such commissions based on the Handbook for Judicial Nominating Commissioners. We have found no evidence that nominating commissions as institutions are dominated by specific interests within our outside the organized bar. In fact, business interests are largely supportive of merit selection systems, as reflected by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s rankings of state liability systems for 2008. The results of this U.S. Chamber survey of corporate counsel show that the top five states for “creating a fair and reasonable litigation environment” all use appointive systems, with four of them using merit selection. All five of the bottom states in the U.S. Chamber survey, including Alabama at #47, use contestable elections for judges. (U.S. Chamber survey results are available at:

The U.S Chamber’s Institute of Legal Reform recently issued a report, Promoting “Merit” in Merit Selection, which outlines best practices for commission-based selection of state judges that are based largely on the American Judicature Society’s Model Judicial Selection Provisions and the selection systems used in Arizona and Massachusetts. AJS issued a statement applauding the Chamber ILR report on merit selection, which includes a link to the full Chamber report.

Again, thank you for your interest in the mission and work of AJS.

Best regards,
Seth Andersen

Sent: 12/2/2009 6:12:19 A.M. Central Standard Time
Subj: Re: Inquiry regarding AJS membership

Dear Mr. Andersen,

Thank you very much for your extended and very thoughtful reply. I don't think anyone has shown me more consideration, and I wish many others I have contacted had shown me a little more consideration like you. I will include your views in my blog, unless you object.

If I will not gain any greater access to members (such as through email addresses), I may decide not to join and not to pay the membership dues (and save the money for where I can increase access).

I don't know whether you saw in my blog my "citizen's letter to judges" ( If that or anything else you see in my blog suggests I could make a contribution for publication in Judicature, I would like that very much.

Rob Shattuck

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