Courting Trouble: Unpacking Oregon’s Judiciary

Oregon Judiciary

Crisis of Legitimacy

In recent years, the spectacle of Oregon courts overturning citizens’ initiatives on purely technical and (to many) trivial, if not trumped-up, grounds1 has led many citizens to question the legitimacy of the entire appellate system. One does not have to look at what the courts do, however, to feel uncomfortable about the possibility of political bias in the judiciary. One has only to examine the makeup of the courts.

Fourteen of the seventeen current judges in the appellate system made it into office, not by being elected, but by being placed there by Democrat governors. Throw in the fact that almost all were chosen from the narrow pool of lawyers in the Portland-Salem-Eugene corridor; add that as a practical matter, a judge can never be voted out of office; and any ruling on a politically charged topic is automatically suspect, at least to the hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who feel they are not represented on the courts. Despite initial appearances, though, this is not a partisan issue. It is a consequence of past attempts to solve the question of how to hold judges accountable to the public.

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About the author: Bill Merritt is a contributing editor for Liberty and has written about political matters for BrainstormNW. He is the author of Where the Rivers Ran Backward (Georgia, Anchor/Doubleday), a memoir of his experiences as a combat engineer in Vietnam, and most recently, A Fool’s Gold (Bloomsbury), a story of ancient Spanish treasure, two pounds of pot, and a couple of clients he had when starting a law practice in the early eighties.

About Cascade Policy Institute: Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s premier policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility and economic opportunity. To that end, the Institute publishes policy studies, provides public speakers, organizes community forums and sponsors educational programs.

Cascade Policy Institute is a tax-exempt educational organization as defined under IRS code 501(c)(3). Cascade neither solicits nor accepts government funding and is supported by individual, foundation and business contributions. Nothing appearing in this document is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of Cascade or its donors, or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before any legislative body. The views expressed herein are the author’s own. Copyright 2006 by Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved.

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