By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: A national group that supports judicial restraint is opposing a measure on the Nevada ballot to change the way judges are selected from direct elections to appointment and retention.
The Judicial Crisis Network also presented a survey of Nevada voters’ views on the change that shows a majority oppose the idea of appointing instead of electing members of the state Supreme court.
The automated survey of just over 1,400 voters conducted Oct. 4 showed 51 percent in opposition, 30 percent in favor and 19 percent undecided.
Seventy-one percent of those responding said Supreme Court justices should be elected, 23 percent said appointed and 6 percent said it would make no difference. The survey was conducted by Magellan Strategies for the group and has a margin of error of 2.6 percent.
The survey also shows that only 9 percent believe the Supreme Court is doing a poor job, with the remainder in the excellent, good, fair or don’t know categories.
Gary Marx, executive director of the Judicial Crisis Network, said this response raises the question of why a change is needed in Nevada.
“Usually when someone is proposing that there is a constitutional amendment there is some crisis at hand, some important issue that hangs in the balance” he said. “In this case, the proponents of this significant ballot change to the constitution have not laid out what the problem is. There is no problem according to the citizens of Nevada when you look at this polling data.”
Question 1 on the Nov. 2 general election ballot is more expansive than the questions asked in the survey, however. The proposed change to the process of selecting judges would include both Supreme Court justices and district judges statewide. The proposed constitutional amendment was placed on the ballot by the Nevada Legislature.
The survey closely mirrors a poll on the question taken in July for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which showed Question 1 with 27 percent in favor, 54 percent opposed and 19 percent undecided.
A number of prominent Nevadans have come out in support of the change, saying the initial selection of judges using a judicial selection committee, with one nominee being selected by the governor, would take money and politics out of the process. Also supporting the measure is retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Question 1 would require judges to be independently evaluated prior to every retention election, and 55 percent of voters would have to vote in support to keep a judge on the bench.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, spoke in support of Question 1 in an interview with Nevada television station owner Jim Rogers that aired today, saying the current system of electing judges creates a perception that justice is for sale in Nevada.
Judges would still have to stand for election under the new plan, ensuring that voters would continue to have their say, she said. The change would inject merit into the judicial selection process, Buckley said.
“If you don’t like the judge you still have the right to vote them out,” she said.
Marx said the effort to change the judicial selection system in Nevada is part of an outside effort by liberal political activist George Soros who Marx said wants lawyers to select judges, not voters.
“He has a long term focus on the courts and this Nevada battle is just one of those pieces of the puzzle,” Marx said. “The system that we have is the least political system because judges are accountable to the people, not accountable to an elite group of lawyers behind closed doors that no one knows about.”
In her interview with Rogers, Buckley noted that the judicial selection process in Nevada would be open to the public and not conducted in private.