Friday, 18 August 2006

The Election of Judges

Once again in my state of Washington, important Supreme Court Judges are about to be chosen in a likely low-turnout primary. Once again right-wing "property rights" advocates are attempting a stealth campaign to get their frequently under-qualified ideologues who do not represent the majority of our electorate into these powerful positions.

I fear the same sort of thing is happening across the country, as studies show that in recent elections money is being pumped into these judicial campaigns at unprecedented levels. Personally I question the wisdom of popularly electing judges. I want qualified judges who have gone through a thoughtful review process, not pretty faces who are good at waging an election campaign. Further, the majority of the electorate simply isn't interested in doing the research necessary to make a truly informed decision.

My short-term message to Washington voters is to reelect incumbent justices Owens, Alexander, and Chambers, and incumbent appeals judge Becker. My longer term question is can we work toward changing our silly system of electing judges in which unqualified candidates such as Jeanette Burrage are even allowed to run, and special interest money is allowed to hijack our judicial process?

Nationwide, most states do elect justices, though in many of those the vote is a referendum on retaining an already appointed judge, thus largely avoiding the danger of unqualified ideologues bypassing a more professional review. Of course appointments can result in bad choices as well, so I'm not sure what system is best, only that the popular election system currently in place in Washington and nearly half the other states is badly flawed. Here is a snapshot of the system in place in each of the states back in 1995. I do not know how much it may have changed since then. Here is a more recent document (pdf) with somewhat different information about the courts in all the states.

5 comments:

Ideas2NoEnd said...

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Steve Zemke said...

Part of the problem is the need for voters to educate themselves on who is running.

The other part of the problem is the influence of large contributions on races like for Washington State Supreme Court. Even though the Washington State Legislature this year added the State Supreme Court races to other staewide races that are limited to $1400 in the primary and $1400 in the general election, they did not place limits on what one can give to so called independent PAC's that also spend on the races.

This still allows big special interest money to influence the voters. The Legislature needs to correct this problem by limiting contributions to a cnadidate both when given directly to the campaign committee or indirectly to a PAC also spending to support or oppose a candidate.

Brooks Lindsay said...

I quoted from this article on Debatepedia's pro/con article on the election of judges. Great argument on the tendencies of elections to favor style over substance. Here's the link:

http://wiki.idebate.org/index.php/Debate:_Election_of_judges

http://wiki.idebate.org/index.php/Welcome_to_Debatepedia!

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