Thirty-two states will be holding contested elections or retention votes for judges on their highest courts this year. Those include what are described as an “ideological battle” in Florida and a “highly partisan” one in North Carolina. These elections and others are providing uncomfortable lessons about why judges on the highest courts should be appointed rather than elected. Judicial elections in recent years gave a backdrop to the current races. The New York Times observed recently that “elections turn judges into politicians, and the need to raise money to finance ever more expensive campaigns makes the judiciary more vulnerable to improper influence by donors.” The Times said that “special interests, like the casino, energy and hospital industries and others,” have been heavily involved in judicial elections. The newspaper pointed out that on occasion, the donors “find their ways around disclosure rules and exert their influence through independent expenditures, reducing race after race into a contest of slogans.”
In six states where spending has been especially heavy — Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas — the Times pointed out that “the harm to justice is well documented.” It was noted that from Karl Rove in my state of Alabama to the Tea Party and the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity in Wisconsin, “some of the most aggressive conservative shapers of American politics today have helped push state courts to the right.” The Times stated further:
While individual judges may not sell their votes outright, political donors have an interest in electing judges who support their point of view. Businesses and their surrogates have deep pockets to contribute to campaigns, giving them tremendous sway in the elections. With almost 40% of the spending in elections for top state courts in 2009-10 coming from lawyers, lobbyists and business interests, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, it is not surprising that candidates who favor business are getting elected as top-court judges or that they are taking legal positions that businesses favor. State courts decide 95% of the country’s legal cases. They are damaged by money-soaked elections. The evidence mounts that top state judges should be picked and appointed through merit selection, not elected.
I believe that if the American people were polled they would favor judges being appointed. Perhaps the time has come for that to happen. But if that’s not the case, at least it’s time to control spending in judicial races. There is no way to justify huge sums of money being poured into judicial races. People expect all judges to be independent and fair to all sides in a controversy and to dispense justice.
Source: New York Times
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