No Judicial Experience? No Problem on State High Courts
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan may be in for a rough confirmation process because of her lack of judicial experience. But some 85 percent of state high courts have at least one member with no judicial resume, according to new research.
The National Center for State Courts, a nonpartisan court research organization, found that the vast majority of state "courts of last resort" — 46 of 53 — have at least one member with no prior experience as a judge. The 53 courts surveyed include the supreme courts in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, plus the highest criminal courts in Oklahoma and Texas, which are separate from those states' supreme courts.
In fact, there are 19 sitting state high court judges who had no prior judicial experience when they joined their courts, the center found. By contrast, only seven states — California, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee — have high courts comprised entirely of judges with lower-court judicial experience.
In Texas, five of the nine members of the state's highest criminal court had no judicial experience when they joined the bench, Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey notes today (May 12). Casey argues that the issue of judicial experience — like many things surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court nomination process — is tinged by politics.
Casey points out that one of Texas' U.S. senators, Republican John Cornyn, praised unsuccessful nominee U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers in 2005, even though she had no prior judicial experience. Cornyn this week changed his position, saying of Kagan: "Most Americans believe that prior judicial experience is a necessary credential for a Supreme Court justice."