Los Angeles, California September 26, 2004
(September 22, 2004) - "Only lawyers and politicians should be able to select judges. You, as a citizen, are no longer competent."
This appears to be the basic position of the proponents of constitutional Amendment A, which will be on the ballot November 2. Originally sponsored by numerous anti-gun politicians, this measure is based on the so-called "merit selection of judges" process. It could be more accurately described, however, as the backroom selection of judges.
Currently, circuit-court judges are elected by the people of South Dakota. If Amendment A becomes law, all state judges will be appointed by the governor from a pool of candidates chosen by a bureaucratic commission composed of five lawyers and two gubernatorial appointees.
Proponents of backroom selection declare that recent federal court decisions make Amendment A necessary, claiming that the amendment will protect the judiciary from big money and special interest groups. They imply that judges who are chosen by an unelected commission will be more impartial than those elected by the people.
But Amendment A proponents fail to mention that five of the seven members of the commission must be members of the State Bar, and three of them are directly appointed by the Bar President. In its structure and function, the State Bar is strikingly similar to a special interest group, and is arguably one of the most powerful entities in South Dakota.
It should also be obvious that most special interest groups can exert at least as much influence on the governor's office and a seven member commission as they can bring to bear upon the diverse population of South Dakota in a popular election.
Proponents also suggest that backroom selection is more "open" than the current elective process. However, many voters must be wondering how a process governed by a small bureaucratic commission could be more open than a district-wide election.
Amendment A has been hailed by proponents as the remedy for a "broken system." But the dangers of consolidating all judicial selection into the hands of a few unelected lawyers make their solution far worse than the supposed problem. Under Amendment A, the governor may appoint only candidates selected by the commission, which is in turn heavily influenced by the State Bar. In the words of one voter, "Amendment A turns a possible problem into a bona fide, guaranteed catastrophe" (Rapid City Journal, Sept. 21).
Passage of Amendment A could indeed spell disaster for any gun owner facing criminal charges under the current gun control laws. Because judges chosen in the backroom selection system are far less accountable to the people, they are much more likely to be anti-gun and to prosecute innocent gun owners with greater zeal.