Two years ago, in the midst of my election season travels, I had the opportunity to attend the kick-off of a two year project by the League of Women Voters of South Carolina examining the impact of diversity on judicial independence. Tuesday night, I attended the concluding event of the project. In both instances, the League presented diverse panels of lawyers, legislators and judges who offered their points of view on South Carolina’s system of selecting judges that combines rigorous screening for merit with election by the legislature. The League’s very public examination of this system reveals a high quality bench that does not reflect the diversity of the state. From an outsider’s point of view, it was interesting to listen to stakeholders at the beginning and at the end of the project. No one disputes that diversity is a desirable goal, but with legislators controlling not just the election of judges but also the funding of the judiciary and the organized bar, those in the best position to do so continue to be reluctant to criticize a process controlled predominantly by white men.
But the League has emerged from this project with a view of judicial selection that is well-informed and realistic and now, ready to offer a positive solution to a very real issue. That solution does not involve changing the system, but rather suggests making small but meaningful changes by expanding the number and diversifying the selection process for the Judicial Merit Selection Commission that screens judicial candidates. This is League at its best: employing a transparent, fact-based process to bring into focus what works in government as well as what can be better. It was a real privilege to get this birds-eye view of a project that I would otherwise only get to read about in reports.
The League is and has always been the premier provider of balanced adult political education. The South Carolina project is merely one example of countless fine examples that are going on right now in communities around the country with the League leading the way.