Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his nominees for the two vacant positions on the Supreme Court of Canada this week, picking two names from a list local MP Brent Rathgeber helped draft.
Justice Andromache Karakatsanis and Justice Michael Moldaver both currently sit on the Ontario Court of Appeal and will appear before a parliamentary committee today. The two justices are still officially appointees, but the committee does not vote on their selection and their appearance is part of a consultation process.
Under the constitution, the prime minister has the authority to make the appointments unilaterally, but Harper has had his appointees appear before the committee to answer questions before officially taking up their posts.
Rathgeber was one of five MPs on a panel that helped with the decision, giving Harper six names from which he chose Karakatsanis and Moldaver.
The panel included one member from each of the Liberals and the NDP and met with people in the legal community and reviewed the work of many people who were being considered for the spots.
Rathgeber said the first challenge for him was getting up to speed on the contenders.
“When I was a lawyer I practiced in Alberta,” he said. “I wasn’t really very familiar with any of the applicants who were in front of us.”
Both of the open spots on the court are reserved for justices from Ontario and Rathgeber said he read many of the decisions from all of the possible contenders to become familiar with them.
Rathgeber said while the two departing justices both had areas of expertise, the panel did not set out to replace them because the court has to deal with so many issues.
“They have to hear and decide cases that may fall outside their narrow area of expertise.”
The panel also interviewed people from the legal community in Ontario including members of the bar association and other judges.
Rathgeber said after the hard work of reading decisions and doing several interviews, the actual process of drafting the shortlist was straightforward.
“We had about four to six hours booked off to try and come up with a short list, but we were done in about 90 minutes,” he said. “There was a pretty good consensus of what names should go on the short list and why, and once those reasons were drafted the job was done.”
Rathgeber said both of the nominees the prime minister picked had a lot of strengths, but he identified some standout qualities.
Moldaver is a former prosecutor and has a deep knowledge of criminal law, which Rathgeber said would obviously be important on the bench.
“Mr. Justice Moldaver is thought of as a criminal law expert, he has a great interest in criminal law and he volunteers to write a lot of the decisions.”
Rathgeber said Moldaver is not in any way limited to criminal law, however.
Karakatsanis is a former civil servant who was called to the Ontario court relatively recently. Rathgeber said the court often deals with the workings of government.
“I think a background in government and a background in government processes will ultimately be of benefit to her and of benefit to the court.”