.....Advertisement.....
.....Advertisement.....

Supreme Court trailblazer shares concern about judicial election system

-A A +A
By Carol A. Clark

ALBUQUERQUE—The current climate of corrupt judges in the news concerns retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. O’Connor spent Thursday evening discussing this topic and others at the Albuquerque Convention Center’s Kiva Auditorium. The audience was filled with students, educators, New Mexico’s legal community and state, local and philanthropic leaders.Referring to campaigning judges accepting money from lawyers, she said, “The collection of money from lawyers who go before you – not good.” O’Connor advocates a merit selection process rather than public election, saying there is “too much cash in the courtroom.” A merit selection process where by a committee recommends qualified individuals to governors for two year terms followed by review and re-appointment based on merit is the way O’Connor wants to see the system reformed. In her home state of Arizona, voters passed the merit system and the state has grown to have the finest slate of judges of any state, she said. Judges must be paid at a decent level, O’Connor added, saying federal judges have not had a pay increase since 1984.The fact that the national “No Child Left Behind” program fails to fund schools to teach about the court system also has O’Connor worried and she intends to do something about it. She spoke of launching an educational program for middle schoolers in which learning about the courts would be fun and mainly delivered over the Internet.For many years O’Connor has traveled the world speaking to the importance of maintaining a just legal system. “I think the best hope for world peace is the rule of law and if every country adopts that, we’ll get along better,” she said. “The visits overseas have been important, they mattered, they work.”She also addressed the negative climate permeating through people of differing opinions. “We are polarized,” she said, adding she tells law students they have to learn to “disagree agreeably and remain friends.”O’Connor was nominated by President Ronald Reagan and became the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court, a position she held from Sept. 25, 1981 until her retirement last year. She spoke of “firsts” in the highest court in the land including the first law clerk, first female law clerk, first African American justice and the first Catholic justice among many others.Longtime ABC News correspondent and New Mexico resident Sam Donaldson introduced O’Connor, saying he’s known her longer than anyone in the room. He presented a photo of students at Radford School, a girls academy in El Paso, Texas showing himself as a kindergartner and sole male class member. O’Connor, a few years older, was shown in the same photo at the school in which boys were allowed to attend only in their kindergarten year.New Mexico First, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization co-founded in 1986 by New Mexico senators Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., hosted O’Connor’s talk. New Mexico First is designed to engage New Mexicans in public policy. For information access www.nmfirst.org.