Justice F. Philip Carbullido spoke Tuesday evening about what the Guam courts might be like if the island were to become an independent nation.

Carbullido was the featured speaker at the 15th installment of a continuing seminar series hosted by the Richard Flores Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam.

"Is there a better system out there that might be a model for the island under independence?" Carbullido asked.

Carbullido discussed the United States model, in which federal judges are nominated by the president and must be confirmed by a majority of the Senate.

On Guam, judges and justices hold office virtually for life but may be “voted off” the bench during a retention election.

Every seven years, judges of the Superior Court face a retention vote. Every 10 years, voters are asked whether a Supreme Court justice should retain his or her seat.  

In the Republic of Palau, a judicial nominating committee – chaired by the chief justice of the Supreme Court and composed of members of the bar and non-lawyers appointed by the president – screens and interviews applicants and submits a shortlist of seven nominees to the president, Carbullido stated.

There are countless other judicial selection methods, he said.

And there is much more to crafting a justice system than just looking at how judges are selected, he acknowledged. "For example, we might consider what role traditional methods of dispute resolution, such as the restorative justice principle of inafa'maolek, should play in our justice system," he said.

"It’s clear that there is no perfect system of judicial selection. But we can learn from the different experiences—both within the United States and throughout the world—to decide what might work best if we designed a system as an independent nation, with our highest court having the final say on issues that come before it," according to Carbullido's presentation.

"Would an independent Guam want to directly elect its judges? Or perhaps follow an assisted-appointment model and create a judicial nominating commission? If we did, who would get to choose the members of the commission? We might even conclude that our current selection method works just fine — you know, the age-old adage that 'if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.'” 

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