Federal Judges: Use Florida Model

* Re "Guarantee the Independence of All Judges," by Abner Mikva and William S. Sessions, Commentary, March 12: Independence (from the political branches) is crucial to judicial impartiality. So is accountability (to a democratic citizenry). The federal model of presidential nomination, Senate confirmation and life tenure provides too little independence in appointment but too much independence (i.e., no accountability) thereafter.

Fortunately a model exists to strike the right balance. It comes from, of all places, Florida. As Mikva and Sessions note, Florida judges frequently rule against the political party with which they are "supposedly associated." That is to be expected because Florida judges (including Supreme Court justices) are nominated not by elected officials but by an independent commission, subject to confirmation by the governor. They then must stand for periodic yes/no retention elections before the voters.

This model should be applied at the federal level. The nomination process could be copied intact. The retention process would have to be different. We could establish a periodic opportunity (perhaps every 12 to 15 years) for an extraordinary majority of each house of Congress to terminate a justice's or judge's term.

Our judicial appointment process has become increasingly bitter and partisan. Courts have become increasingly subject to charges of politicization, as Mikva and Sessions note. It is time to consider measures to enhance both judicial independence and accountability.

MATTHEW SHUGART

Professor, Political Science

UC San Diego

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We are told by Mikva and Sessions that "the judicial system is under attack by partisan innuendo and interests." In the matter of the five justices of the Supreme Court selecting George W. Bush to be our next president, the "partisanship" was in their ultra-right-wing ideology. How can ordinary citizens overcome that unfair and unjust situation? More than 50% of the voters were disenfranchised, and most of us will never trust the Supreme Court again.

BETTY GEISMAR

Mission Viejo

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