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.