Voters in 39 of the 50 states elect their judges. It's one of the few ways the American democracy can control who sits in judgement in the courts. But now there's a movement organized to take away this right from the voting public.
Many of the men and women who have donned the black robes across the years of American history first had to gain the voter approval. However, some legal elites would like to stop this practice. They said they would do a better job picking judges based on merit. In response, critics say it would remove the democratic influence on the courts.
"It removes basically any kind of participation of the American people in holding their judges accountable," said Dan Pero, president of the American Justice Partnership.
Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice warned these elites are waging a serious well-funded campaign to take over the courts.
"There's a movement right now to remove the whole vote of the American people for the selection of judges," Sekulow said. "I mean, this is a national momentum that's starting."
Pero warned that the idea of selection committees means a return to smoke-filled rooms where the influential, not the people, make the decisions.
"An un-elected, unaccountable body of individuals, seven, eight, varies from state to state," Pero said. "They meet behind closed doors. No one can come in. Records aren't made public. And then they decide who the judicial nominees will be."
The elites said the judiciary would improve because they would pick the best judges. Sekulow said studies show that's just not true.
"There's no difference between the quality of judicial administration when you have merit selection versus selection by individual citizens exercising their right to vote," Sekulow added. "And we should always protect the right to vote."
One of the main arguments for selection committees and against voters electing judges -- if people have to campaign to become judges, then they - just like politicians - may end up beholding to special interest groups. But critics of selection committees point out that these commissions themselves are special interest groups or are composed of people that belong to special interest groups -- and who mostly belong to the group of legal elites. And such legal elites are more liberal than the general public.
"What you're going to end up with very quickly and very clearly is going to be a situation where those with a far left agenda will be the ones selected, and they will be the ones recommended," Sekulow said.
"And so you'll get judges out of that who'll lean to the left," Pero said.
"These committees always tend to select the ones with a liberal judicial philosophy," Sekulow continued. "So it will not be Justice Scalia and Thomas types. Rather it would be justices far to the left of that."
A campaign that's organized to shift the American judiciary to the left takes a vast amount of money. And someone's been willing to spend it.
The ultra-left George Soros, the billionaire hedge-fund manager has been a key financial supporter. He has spent more than $45 million through a political group -- the ironically-named Open Society Institute. It is ironic because critics said the institute's main mission has been to take the selection of judges out of the open and to place it behind closed doors -- in the backrooms and through the selection commissions.
"It's the George Soroses and the ACLUs that want that kind of process, not those who share a conservative judicial philosophy," Sekulow said. "And we need to be really cautious and aware of exactly what's going on here as they're pouring tens of millions of dollars into this national campaign."
"I believe in democracy," Pero said. "And I'm not for giving it up and turning it over to a bunch of un-elected, unaccountable elites."