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Supreme Court appointments in the charter era: the current debate and its implications for reform Hanson, Lawrence J

Abstract

The presence of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution of Canada has transformed the historic discourse about what types of people should be appointed to the Supreme Court and the manner in which they should be selected. During the period between 1949, when the Supreme Court replaced the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain as Canada's highest appellate body, and the Charter's entrenchment in 1982, the debate centered almost exclusively on questions of federalism. Specifically, the provinces argued that in a federal country, it is inappropriate that the status and composition of the court of last resort be left to the sole discretion of the central government. The Charter, with its enumeration of a variety of social categories, has produced new demands that the Court be more socially representative. Feminist legal scholars and women’s advocacy groups claim that a more representative judiciary in general and Supreme Court in particular would perform both symbolic and instrumental functions, while ethno cultural organizations have to date concentrated almost solely upon the symbolic dimension. By contrast, claims for self-government and separate justice systems illustrate that many aboriginal leaders believe their peoples’ grievances can best be met through disengagement from, rather than further integration into, Canadian political and legal processes. The Charter's presence also has conditioned demands for are formed appointment process. Now that the Court is to serve as the arbiter of citizen-state relations, many suggest, it is improper for the state to have sole control over who is appointed to that body, and therefore a more participatory and pluralistic appointment process is advocated. Clearly, these two broadly-defined reform agendas can conflict with one another. While the provinces demand more diffuse government involvement in the appointment of judges, those concentrating on the Court's Charter responsibilities believe that the state already unduly dominates the process. However, the current debate has further, largely unexplored consequences for potential reform. The failure of most participants in the debate, be they governments, scholars or advocacy groups, to articulate coherent approaches to questions of jurisprudential theory, combined with the difficulties inherent in applying the concept of representation to a judicial body, renders their critiques less valuable as guides to reform. Worse, their inadequate treatment of these issues often results in such critics undermining the legitimacy of the institution whose reform they seek.

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