Scruggs’ actions demonstrate that it is the information one does not know about that can truly lead to harm. This is a lesson Grisham cannot seem to grasp. On his nationwide book promotion tour, Grisham has assailed judicial elections and called for their abolition. Grisham refers to his preferred system of selecting state court judges as “merit selection.” The practical effect of merit selection is that all of a state’s judges would be chosen by the governor, from a list approved by a panel dominated by trial lawyers, criminal defense attorneys and others directly interested in the rulings of the judges whom they select.
To add icing on the cake, unlike the political process, but just like the Scruggs scandal, all of the panel’s important debates would take place behind closed doors, immune to public scrutiny. Rather than remove the influence of interested trial attorneys from the selection process, Grisham’s plan calcifies it and removes the appointments process from the realm of normal public debate. It does not eliminate corruption so much as make a more insidious form of it possible.
Tennessee’s legislators appear to be taking their cues from reality rather than Grisham’s preferred fictional narrative. The General Assembly recently decided to end the backroom dealing associated with “merit selection” by returning to the contested judicial elections Tennessee’s constitution mandates.
Former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter said it best: “You can’t go wrong when you let the people vote.” Maybe that is a message Scruggs can relate to Grisham, should the noted author decide to visit his friend in jail to perform research for a more accurate sequel.