Arguments for and against electing court judges by popular vote continue from time to time. In my community, judgeships tend to be uncompetitive with one person running for each vacant slot. It hardly seems worth the price of ink to put their names on the ballot and how these candidates emerge by fiat is a mystery to me. I’ve never peered behind the veil of that selection process but I suspect the system is run more like an oligarchy than a democracy.
That said, an article by Andy Kroll points out the growing interest in judicial races among some sectors of the population and how that interest may affect the direction the country takes. (“Is Your Judge For Sale?” by Andy Kroll, Mother Jones, November/December 2014 pgs. 43-45.) Apparently, those with money have figured out that to maintain power, “…it’s easier to elect seven judges than to elect 132 legislators.” (Ibid 44)
This new appreciation for the law accounts for the great sums of money flooding into judicial races. One candidate, for example, received a $3million donation for his election from the CEO of a utility company. Later that judge adjudicated a case which involved that same utility. Instead of recuing himself, this officer of the court ruled in favor of his campaign benefactor.
The contribution strategy doesn’t always work, however, The Koch brothers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to unseat 3 sitting judges and failed. Still, Kroll is right to open our eyes to this new center of politics – judicial races which constituents are likely to ignore. As former U. S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor remarked regarding the trend:
If judicial decisions are in fact not fair and impartial – or even if they are perceived as being biased – the basis of support for our courts crumbles.