Jan 14 2011
Something interesting is happening in Tennessee – where the Merit Selection system for choosing judges is again under fire. The Times Free Press reports (hat tip to American Courthouse) that two sitting Supreme Court justices contributed to the Senate campaign of the opponent of a state representative who was vocal about wanting to change the judicial selection system. The contributions were legal in Tennessee. They wouldn’t have been in PA, which allows judges to make political contributions only when they are engaged in an election themselves (See Canon 7).
Frequent Merit Selection critic Dan Pero asks why these contributions aren’t drawing the same fire as contributions to judicial campaigns: “Why is there a perception that it’s impossible for judges to remain fair and impartial if they accept a campaign contribution, but no reasonable concern about bias is [sic] they make a contribution themselves?”
Perhaps surprising to Mr. Pero, we are very concerned about this. Judges should of course have the right to vote like all other citizens, but judges do give up certain rights when they take the bench – this should include overt political or financial support in elections.
Judges should not be in the business of raising or making political contributions. Even the Pennsylvania restrictions on judicial contributions do not go far enough – money and politics should stay out of the courtroom. They best way to accomplish that is to keep judges out of the electoral system – whether as candidates or political supporters.
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