FairVote Study: Time for judicial nomination reform

by Jack Santucci // Published November 3, 2005
A new FairVote study finds the major parties' rhetoric about judicial filibusters and who really represents the majority is just that.

The GOP, claiming to represent a majority of Americans, has 55 Senators who actually received the support of 58 million voters. The Dems' 45 Senators received votes from 63 million.

On the other hand, the 45 Democrats, some of whom threaten to filibuster in the interest of "mainstream America," only received the support of 18.16 percent of voters.

Polarization is one of the main reasons for filibuster threats in the first place. If the nomination of a Supreme Court justice didn't seem like the end of the world to either party, the aisle might not seem so much like a chasm.

So FairVote is calling for two reforms to curb partisan bickering:

Rather than appointing judges for lifetime terms, judges would serve one term to last a period of 15 to 30 years (or some other fixed term that experts agree would give significant time for judges to grow in their thinking and still free them from the shifting short-term political winds). Lifetime appointments cause a panic amongst partisans who fear indefinite reigns of power from ideologically charged judges. The current system also creates incentives for ideological judges to hang onto power until their favored party can appoint their successors.

Proposal 2: Slate Nominations for District and Court of Appeals Judges: Reforming the nominations process for federal District and Court of Appeals vacancies would go a long way toward reducing partisan bickering about judicial nominees. Under this system judicial vacancies at any given point in time would all be filled at the same time, with the Senate voting on whether to confirm the entire slate of proposed judges as a group, rather than one at a time. While this system would not work for Supreme Court nominations, it would be highly effective for District Court and Court of Appeals nominees, where a great degree of partisan acrimony could be avoided in the future. The President and his/her party would nominate most of the judges on the slate, while the minority party would nominate a smaller portion of the judges. The exact percentage of nominees made by each party could be a fixed percentage or could be made to shift with the composition of the Senate. The two party's nominees would then be combined into the unified slate that the full Senate would then vote on. This would potentially create incentives for the two parties to work together on creating an overall slate of nominees who are acceptable to the full Senate, rather than having both sides merely pander to their bases.

Read the report in full.