Money in politics is one significant issue on its own then to add Judges solicting for donations puts them in the same beholden camp as it does Politicians. We have seen this with MADD and other acronym groups that use donations and in turn lobbying to elicit laws and in turn loopholes to favor their issues over another. So we have this excessive and bizarre legislation that overcriminalizes, under regulates and in turn unequally distributes justice to those who enter its gates.
First up was this election for a Judge doing what the pols do, soliciting for campaign contributions. In that the Florida Bar Association filed a charge against a prospective Judge for violating campaign rules with her campaign tactics. This later went to Court over First Amendment issues. The very legalese Concurring Opinions discusses the implication of this case here.
But here is the issue - we should not be electing Judges. And we need to rethink the lifetime appointments of the Supreme Court, but that is for another blog.. but as many of us are in election season ask yourself and those around you what do you actually know about the Judges in your area running for election. My guess is not much. Do you even know how to find assessments and fair unbiased views on these people? Probably no. And even those are often badly done ABA or League of Women Voter surveys of a select few who have their own bias or views whom we also know nothing. So in other words it is working well for those who want to be a Judge.
Many Judges have incredibly bad assessments by their local bar and yet are repeatedly re-elected. I looked into one Judge here and concerns about this woman go back decades and yet she still sits behind a bench utterly without any supervision or concern about competence. How fantastic! So if this is happening here it is happening in your community.
Why Judicial Elections Are a Bad Thing
April 7, 2011
This was lost in the uproar surrounding Representative Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, but yesterday—in his home state of Wisconsin—incumbent judge David Prosser lost to Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg in his re-election bid for the state Supreme Court. A Republican, Prosser, was widely known as an ally of Governor Scott Walker, and as such, was an obvious target for state Democrats. His defeat, by a slim margin of 208 votes, is the first electoral repudiation of Walker’s anti-worker agenda, and in all likelihood, a sign of things to come for Wisconsin Republicans.
While this is good news, it’s worth noting that—on the whole—electing judges is a terrible idea. To wit, the United States is virtually alone among advanced democracies in its commitment to the practice.
Why shouldn’t we trust individual citizens with the task of staffing a judiciary? Well, first, it runs counter to the entire idea of an independent judiciary. Elections require cash, and absent full and mandatory public financing, this means fundraising. Even in the best of circumstances, it’s difficult for a judge to appear impartial when, as a candidate, she relied on donors and special interests for support. This might not be a huge concern on a high-profile body, like a state Supreme Court, but it’s undoubtedly a problem among the thousands of lower-court judges chosen by popular ballot.
Indeed, election-year pressure can lead judges to alter their decisions; in a Pennsylvania study, for example, researchers found that all judges increase their sentences in election years, “resulting in some 2,700 years of additional prison time, or 6 percent of total prison time, in aggravated assault, rape and robbery sentences over a 10-year period.”
Beyond the possibility of undue influence, is simply true that judicial elections are low on the radar for most voters.
The problem with electing judges is similar to the problem with electing treasurers or the problem with electing dogcatchers; with so many elections, voters don’t have the time or knowledge to evaluate the candidates. As such, there are far fewer eyes watching the conduct of judicial candidates and far fewer barriers to bad behavior.
In other words, judicial elections provide the illusion of popular control, at the expense of actual accountability. In an ideal world, we’d dispense with them entirely.
And this is from Harvard... and when they think it well... they are the bestest at everything!
Judges as Candidates: The Good, the Bad, and the Political
by; Caroline Cox
Harvard Political Review
November 4, 2010
Impartiality and the judiciary are frequently considered synonymous. Even outside of the U.S., the Supreme Court, judges on state supreme courts and other higher-level positions enjoy lengthy terms, a good degree of freedom from political pressure, and the promise of being appointed based upon their merits rather than party affiliation. Or at least they should.
An actual look at how judges are appointed to state supreme courts throughout the country reveals an unsettling truth: many of these judges are elected. To most citizens the idea of electing judges seems reasonable. After all, elections are the basis of a strong democracy. However, there is always an exception to the rule, and the judiciary is just that exception.
Take the recent Supreme Court elections in Iowa as a prime example. While most of the nation was focused on election results of the U.S. House and Senate, three Iowa Justices lost their positions at the bench because of their controversial ruling to allow gay marriage in the state. While in Iowa justices are initially appointed by the Governor from a pool of applicants chosen by special commissions, they are also subjected to reconfirmation elections every few years.
These elections are only supposed remove justices for gross misconduct, but, as elections are wont to do, they tend to get more political than originally thought. Interest groups, some even from out of the state, poured money into campaigns against the justices. The campaign worked, and now the Iowa Supreme Court lacks three justices simply because of political whims of the public.
The problem with these elections is fundamental. Judges are ultimately not accountable to the opinions of the people, but rather to the laws of the United States. An independent judiciary is supposed to interpret the laws, not act as a second legislative branch that is subject to public opinion. A startling 23 states hold elections for their supreme courts, while another 17 use a modified form such as a retention election after the initial appointment. That’s a total of 40 states where interest groups, business leaders, and political parties can hold a great deal of influence on the judicial branch.
Those who are concerned, however, have at least one influential figure on their side. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has stepped up as the champion of reforming judicial elections. For several years now she has passionately criticized election of judges, frequently writing editorials, appearing on talk shows, and speaking at events about the issue. Her crusade is admirable, but the lack of attention given to it is troublesome.
In the typical fashion of the modern media, the most recent story involving the retired Justice featured little of her campaign to replace judicial elections with nomination processes, but focused instead on robo-calls that awoke potential Nevadan voters in the middle of the night. While a call at one in the morning is certainly inconvenient, the criticism leveled at Justice O’Connor for her involvement was both misplaced and ignorant of the more important issues.
If states do not consider reforming their appointment processes, the results will be far worse, but less immediately noticeable than an annoying call in the middle of the night. Judges at the state level, where citizens are far more likely to be involved in a case than the U.S. Supreme Court, will continue to bow to political pressure and interest groups. An independent judiciary is critical for a strong democracy, but it simply cannot exist when judicial elections are the norm.
– Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (2002)