Choosing a Judge
Authors: JoEllen Ambrose, Jennifer Bloom
This lesson will introduce students to the process of appointing judges in Minnesota. They will explore the considerations that play a role in judicial selection and will select the qualities they think should be considered in selecting a judge. Students will then act as governor as they select one judge from a list of candidates.
1. Students will explain and evaluate the procedures used to select judges.
2. Students will understand the governor’s constitutional power to appoint judges.
3. Students will identify factors that are considered in judicial appointments.
- Choosing a Judge Lesson Plan
- Student Handout Judicial Selection Process
- Student Handout Choosing a Judge You Decide
Time to Complete
1-2 class periods
1. Introduce activity by asking students to pretend that they are the governor and that a judicial vacancy has occurred in one of the district courts. Ask the students who they would choose to be the new judge. (Answers will range from “my best friend” to “a highly respected lawyer.”)
2. Explain to students that under a new Minnesota law, a Commission on Judicial Selection consisting of lawyers and non-lawyers who are appointed by the governor’s office and the Supreme Court makes recommendations for vacancies occurring in the district courts. The governor may select from the recommended individuals but is not required to do so. (These individuals will be lawyers. All judges in Minnesota must be lawyers.) This procedure is not used for vacancies occurring in the Court of Appeals or in the Supreme Court. For these vacancies, the governor may use whatever procedure he or she wishes. Most often, the governor creates a committee to help identify judge candidates.
3. Ask students to read the first half of the Student Handout: JUDICIAL SELECTION PROCESS. Discuss the questions presented.
A. Should the new judge be a friend? In many cases, governors will appoint persons they know. Is this a good idea? Why or why not?
B. Should an independent group make recommendations to the governor? What are the advantages? (No appearance of partisanship.) What are the disadvantages? (Will the independent group make quality recommendations? What is to prevent them from recommending friends?)
C. If an independent group is to decide, who should belong to the group? Lawyers? People who are not lawyers?
4. Have students, working independently or in small groups, read the Student Handout: YOU DECIDE and select the characteristics that they think are required, recommended, undesirable, and unnecessary. Discuss as a large group.
5. Instruct students that they are the governor. A vacancy has recently occurred in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is currently comprised of six judges (seven when all positions are filled), three are women and three are men. There are no minority judges on the Supreme Court. Most of the members of the court will be retiring in the next ten years. (In Minnesota, judges must retire when they reach the age of 70 years old.)
6. Working in small groups, have students select one of the five candidates to appoint to fill the vacancy. Ask students to explain their selections, addressing the characteristics discussed during step four.
This lesson is an adaptation of “What Makes a Good Supreme Court Justice?” by Debra Hallock Phillips . Lesson is part of "Fairness and Freedom: Courts as a Forum for Justice" curriculum designed to teach about the court system.