Will Biden or Palin Influence Judicial Picks?

The Legal Times has an interesting article suggesting that either prospective VP could play a role in the selection of judicial nominees during the next administration.

In Biden, Sen. Barack Obama selected a running mate who, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995, officiated at the confirmation hearings of five Supreme Court justices, one would-be justice, and hundreds of lower court judges.

Palin brings less of a record in this regard, but she already has had more impact on the Alaska judiciary than her predecessor. Since taking office in December 2006, Palin has seated more than a dozen judges, including a state Supreme Court justice and a state court of appeals judge, the first appellate appointments in the state in more than a decade.

The article also includes some good reporting on Palin's approach to judicial selection as Governor of Alaska. Among other things, it notes that during interviews for prospective appointments, Palin asked prospective judges about their overall judicial philosophy, but avoided asking about specific cases.

Harrington, executive director of Alaska Legal Services Corp., interviewed with Palin in November 2007, days after the state Supreme Court issued a ruling striking down a law that required girls less than 17 years old and younger to get permission from their parents before receiving an abortion. Palin, who opposes abortion except in cases where the mother's life is threatened, called the ruling "outrageous." Harrington anticipated a question about the ruling. But Palin never asked about the case or any other, Harrington says.

"I was pleasantly surprised that the topic did not come up," he says. "I thought that was an indication that the governor and her staff were cognizant of the ethical responsibilities of someone who is a candidate for the court."

He and Palin discussed Alaskan native law, his role models and his work history. At one point, she asked him to define an activist judge. He said he was expecting that, too.

"I think she has a good sense of the separation of powers and the proper role of the judiciary," Harrington says. "She thinks the role of the court is to decide cases and controversies that come before it, and she wants judges to do a good job of applying the law and precedent."