Supreme Court Ballot Measure Could Help Sharron Angle


Some speculative analysis on the Nevada Senate race: a ballot initiative to alter the selection of state Supreme Court justices could help out Sharron Angle.

The first ballot question Nevada voters will see on Election Day will ask whether they want to do away with direct elections of state Supreme Court justices--a possible change in state policy that could gin up some extra populist, Tea Party votes at the polls.

The idea is widely opposed by Nevadans, according to a recent survey: 71 percent of Nevadans want to keep electing their Supreme Court justices, the Republican polling firm Magellan Strategies found in an automated survey of about 1,400 Nevadans commissioned by the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, JCN announced today.

Protecting Nevada's judicial-selection method seems to mesh well with the ideology of Angle's supporters. Tea Partiers of Angle's ilk heavily favor the investment of power in people opposed to states, and states as opposed to the federal government, and they perceive a government eager to take away their rights, lurking, almost, around every turn.

The ballot measure calls for Nevada's governor to appoint Supreme Court justices to their first terms after being vetted and recommended by a commission--the same basic process currently used for midterm vacancies.

Nevadans may not have heard much about the initiative, however, so unless someone starts spending money to educate them about it--or unless Angle incorporates it in her stump speeches--it might not have much effect on the Senate race. While Magellan found that 71 percent want to keep electing justices, it found only 51 percent opposition to the ballot measure itself, even after the measure was explained--a significant mismatch, given that the two questions are very similar--perhaps indicating a lack of familiarity.

The arguments against the initiative, as offered by JCN, are that 1) the seven-member commission that reviews and suggests appointees to the governor is made up of "elite" lawyers and judges, and 2) George Soros has spent roughly $45.5 million to try to get similar measures passed in states across the country, according to the free-enterprise and judicial-reform-oriented American Justice Partnership.

Those are powerful arguments when it comes to attracting the attention of populist conservative voters.

"It's just incredible to think that this year of all years would be pushing to take away the involvement of the citizens and the voters and to move to a system of elite lawyers," said Gary Marx, executive director of JCN, on a conference call today.

39 states currently elect their judges at some level, according to the Brennan Center. The practice of electing judges has its roots in the Jacksonian era of the 1800s, when state constitutions were drafted. For a brief history of the judicial selection process, watch the beginning of this video, where the topic is explained by Georgetown Law Prof. Meryl Chertoff, a member of the O'Connor Judicial Selection Advisory Committee, which sees things in pretty much the opposite light of JCN and is dedicated to pushing for policies like the one on Nevada's ballot. 

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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