By Diana Soliwon
Cliff Taylor, former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, voiced his support for the system that removed him from office during a panel discussion today about merit selection and its power to reshape America’s state courts.
Taylor and former campaign manager Colleen Pero addressed the gathering sponsored by the Heritage Foundation. They released a study underwritten by the American Justice Partnership, and written by Pero, asserting that billionaire George Soros has spent $45 million to "hand judicial selection over to small, unaccountable commissions comprised of legal elites."
"This movement to end citizen participation...has been moving swiftly and silently, below the radar of the citizens who would be impacted by Mr. Soros' millions," Pero said in a news release.
Soros is a hedge fund manager and philanthropist who has donated money to organizations such as the Brennan Center, Justice at Stake and the Open Society Institute, which have warned about the influence of money in judicial elections.
The study is called Justice Hijacked and highlights efforts of those who want to move away from electing state judges.
Taylor was voted out as chief justice in 2008 after Michigan Democrats dubbed him “the sleeping judge” in a campaign advertisement. The ad featured a claim by Juanita Fish, the mother of three of six children who died in a public housing fire, that Taylor fell asleep on the bench during her lawsuit arising from the fire.
Merit selection committees judge potential judges according to their members’ “preferred judicial outlooks,” not their true merits, Taylor said.
“All applicants are qualified,” Taylor said. “Bums don’t apply...to these high-ranking positions.”
The election process is not flawless, but is the best alternative to the merit selection system, he said.