Judicial Elections

On Law.com today:

The nation’s state chief justices are launching a campaign to remind voters of what used to be obvious: Judicial elections are different from those for other offices.

Voicing “grave concern” over increasingly partisan and costly campaigns, the Conference of Chief Justices — representing the top jurists in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories — voted Aug. 2 on measures to emphasize the “unique nature” of judicial elections. At least some of the judges in 39 states are elected.

Alabama, as we all know, elects its judges. I do not know if our Chief Justice attended the meeting or how he voted if he did. In any event, from the limited information on their website it appears that the campaign is mostly educational:

Develop programs of outreach by judges and lawyers to help the public understand what judges do and particularly how their jobs differ from the jobs of other elected officials

Enhance efforts that seek to promote a culture of judicial elections so that the public and candidates understand the importance of having judicial elections conducted in ways that protect the reality and appearance of open-mindedness and fairness

Identify measures that will attract and retain on the bench people who will be quality judges, including encouraging states to establish special commissions to review judges’ pay and make changes if warranted.

Elections not only cause the nasty fights like we saw last spring, but they denigrate the rule of law. Everyone can agree that judges ought to make decisions based solely on the law. In a state that elects judges, however, decisions certainly appear to be made – and sometimes are made –  based not just on the law but also on how the public and campaign donors will react to the decision. That is wrong. That mocks justice.

In my view, lifetime appointments are also a mistake; that makes judges too insulated. Much better is the plan proposed by the Alabama State Bar Association. By using a combination of appointments and retention elections, it eliminates the rancor and temptations caused by elections, but also keeps the judges accountable.

Unfortunately, in order to protect their own interests, a few selfish, petty minded, power hungry weasels are misinforming the public and poisoning the debate. Hopefully the Conference of Chief Justices’s educational campaign will help all of us honestly debate the issue and solve the problem in a way that is good for Alabama, the law, and justice.

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4 Comments on “Judicial Elections”

  1. MCF Says:

    Of course, if Alabama Democrats were more successful in judicial elections, they would support the “right” to elect judges. It’s not surprising that a party that can’t win a single Supreme Court seat would oppose judicial elections, while the other, more successful party seeks to preserve the status quo.

    This has nothing to do with the principles of either party — it’s pure politics.

    For the record, as a matter of principle, I think judicial elections are a bad idea, for the most part. Something like the Missouri Plan would be an improvement.

  2. wheeler Says:

    sure each party’s motives are corrupt; they are political parties. but regardless of motives, twinkle is misleading the public and the people who support reform are right.

    that said, i’m sure that if the democrats were in control of the judiciary, they would be the ones misinforming the public.

    the main point is that i don’t want a judge bought and paid for by a democrat any more than i want one bought and paid for by a republican.

  3. MCF Says:

    Can’t argue with that, wheeler. I think that some level of popular oversight of the judiciary is a good thing, but the current state of affairs in Alabama shows that direct elections aren’t the answer. No better example exists than Roy Moore himself.


  4. […] So, once again, I’ll stump for the State Bar’s selection plan. It keeps judges accountable while removing them from the political fights. Explore posts in the same categories: Elections […]


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