Mar 01 2011
Over at the Huffington Post, Charles Kolb asks whether state judges can be bought. Noting that many states elect at least some of their judges, he points out that the fact that judges and judicial candidates may accept donations from parties and attorneys who might later before them in court gives the appearance that justice might be for sale. Furthermore, judges largely decide for themselves whether it is appropriate for them to hear a case. Referring to his initial question about whether judges can be bought, Kolb announces: “The fact that the answer is not a resounding ‘no’ is a serious problem for the integrity of our state judicial system.”
The article then examines whether there is evidence that campaign contributions to judges are given with the anticipation that lawyers or parties will receive favorable treatment later on. Kolb discusses a rule created in some municipal jurisdictions in the 1970s that required that attorney contributions in judicial elections remained confidential. Without name recognition to accompany their donations, money from lawyers “dried up.”
Kolb goes on to discuss the rising cost of judicial elections, as well as the possibility for corporate and union money created by the Citizens United decision. He also looks at attempts to reform the judicial system in different states, noting that states with merit selection systems frequently have more highly respected judiciaries than states that hold elections. Kolb closes with an observation about the danger posed by electing judges:
If our state courts are seen as dispensing ‘jukebox justice,’ then all Americans lose: our judges will have become just one more commodity for sale, and our system of justice and its principles of fairness, objectivity, and independence will be lost.
We agree that the money involved in judicial elections is a danger to public opinion of the courts, and that even just the appearance of bias or influence undermines public confidence in the justice system. Merit selection is the best way to get judges out of the fundraising business and remove money from the process of selecting judges. It is the best way to ensure fair and impartial courts.Tags: Charles Kolb, Citizens United, Huffington Post, judicial elections, Merit Selection