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Of God and His Conscience - Judicial Selection in Louisiana

NCJ Number
F W Swaim
Date Published
96 pages
This report examines the continuing debate over elective versus appointive methods for selecting judges, with a focus on the history and current means of judicial selection in Louisiana.
In the United States, judicial selection has shifted from an appointive, during the colonial period, to an elective method through most of the 19th century. Both methods have their weaknesses and their proponents and opponents. Today, there are five alternate means of selection: partisan election, nonpartisan election, appointment by executive, legislative election or appointment, and merit selection. In Louisiana, judges are elected (except for temporary appointments to fill newly created vacancies) and mechanisms exist for discipline and removal of judges. However, the national trend has been toward merit selection of judges, with 35 States now using some form of this method. Those who argue against an elective system contend that political influence, voter disinterest and lack of information render the system meaningless and may result in the selection of corrupt and/or unqualified and incompetent judges. Opponents of the merit system argue that this method places too much power in the hands of the appointor(s), that appointments are politically influenced, and that judges are removed from public accountability. Two means of overcoming some of the limitations of merit selection include instituting merit retention elections (such as have been proposed in California) or using a merit selection system based on panel nominations, as was done under the Carter administration. Such systems can ensure selection of a high quality bench and can result in greater appointments of qualified minority and female judges. An appendix provides recommendations for a merit selection system for Louisiana. 215 footnotes.