Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Judicial candidate selection system, needs significant reform

By Ed Murnane | Feb 7, 2013


Thanks to the Chicago Tribune for shining a much needed light on judicial selection in Illinois ("The Illinois Supreme Patrons," Editorial, Dec. 30).

The fact that judges rejected by voters are returned to office by the Supreme Court is bad enough. Even worse, most judges are placed in office by voters who know little, if anything, about them other than their political affiliation.

Half the judges in our state aren't elected by anyone. They are appointed by other judges and not through any mandatory competency test. The Illinois Civil Justice League has been arguing for change for years, although our voice obviously has not been loud enough.

We hope the Tribune and others who believe Illinois needs a better process for selecting judges will join hands to improve our system.

When the Illinois Constitution was approved by voters in 1970, a specific referendum provision called for the continuation of election of judges, not merit selection or appointment as is done in many other states.

We can accept that Illinois voters expressed a preference for election of judges when they approved that constitution.But they did not say they wanted a highly politicized election process, which is what we have. There are other ways to select judges, while still giving voters the final choice.First, we should establish a bipartisan screening process to ensure that judicial candidates are qualified, unbiased and meet other standards.

An equal number of lawyers and non-lawyers should make up the screening committees established in every judicial district. The judicial system should not be controlled by lawyers.

We should require that judicial hopefuls win bipartisan approval to appear on a nonpartisan judicial ballot.

The bottom line is that if Illinois is going to continue to elect judges, the candidates should be qualified, experienced and thoroughly evaluated by an experienced and competent review panel before they are eligible to appear on the judicial ballot.

Illinois also should consider limiting campaign contributions to judicial candidates, possibly by providing limited public financing for candidates who meet rigid qualification standards.

We congratulate the Tribune for taking the lead on this important issue. The Illinois judicial system, especially the judicial candidate selection system, needs significant reform.

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