A group of right-wing legal advocates warned CPAC participants – or more accurately, a tiny subset of CPAC participants – about “The Left’s Campaign to Reshape the Judiciary.”
CPAC: Merit Selection for Judges is an Evil Leftist Plot
Panelists discussed the meaning of “judicial activism” and why the kind of right-wing judicial activism we’ve seen from the Supreme Court doesn’t qualify. (Overturning health care reform? Also not judicial activism.) But the main thrust of the panel was the supposedly dire threat posed by efforts at the state level to replace judicial elections with a merit selection process.
The increasing tendency of judicial elections to become big-money affairs funded by individuals and groups who regularly appear before judges has increasingly raised concerns about judgeships – including state supreme court justices – being for sale to the highest bidder, such as corporate interests looking for courts that won’t hold corporations accountable for misconduct.
But today’s panelists – Liberty Institute’s Kelly Shackleford, American Justice Partnership’s Dan Pero, the Center for Individual Freedom’s Timothy Lee, and the American Civil Rights Union’s Ken Klukowski, warned against merit selection, a nonpartisan alternative that is employed in a number of states and under consideration in others. Pero called merit selection “a power grab by the liberal left,” citing People For the American Way, among others he said were liberals trying to use the courts to impose their vision on America.
Timothy Lee, perhaps mindful of the small crowd drawn to the panel, urged participants to explain to others why the courts were important, no matter what other issue they cared about. For example, he said, the Citizens United decision overturning Supreme Court precedent and substantially crippling the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law rested on the fact the Samuel Alito had replaced Sandra Day O’Connor on the high court.
Klukowski echoed Lee’s call, saying that the fight for “constitutional conservatism” can’t succeed without the right judges in place: “The U.S. Constitution is only as good as the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court that interpret it.” He complained about the Supreme Court’s rulings that Guantanamo detainees have habeas corpus rights and about other federal courts recognizing marriage equality and ruling against the ban on gay servicemembers.
And while panel members celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the District of Columbia’s handgun ban, Klukowski said it’s not clear that there’s a majority in the Court for overturning other gun restrictions. He specifically complained that it is a felony for someone who went through a “messy divorce” and was under a restraining order to have a gun.
Klukowski said that he and Ken Blackwell have written a book called Resurgent: How Constitutional Conservativism can Save America and made an appeal for all stripes of conservatives – social, economic, and national security – to stop fighting each other and work together.