Nov 21 2011
Chicago Tribune: “If we can’t take money out of politics, we can try to take the judiciary out of politics.”
The Chicago Tribune has written a strong endorsement of Merit Selection in a recent editorial.
The editorial tracks the odyssey of Justice Lloyd Karmeier of the Illinois Supreme Court, who has had lawsuits filed against him for failing to recuse himself during litigation against the State Farm insurance company, WHICH contributed substantial sums of money to his election campaign and in whose favor he cast the deciding vote on certain claims of the lawsuit.
Karameier, and his opponent during the race, Gordon Maag, spent a combined total of $9.3 million during their contest, which the Tribune characterizes as “a high-stakes proxy battle between businesses and doctors and the lawyers who sue businesses and doctors,” with Karmeier receiving substantial business backing, and Maag financed largely by the plaintiff’s bar. It seems to have been a battle between special interests, with the good of the Illinois public largely sidelined.
The Tribune sums up nicely the effect that money has on public confidence in elected judges:
A judge should remove himself from a decision if there’s a question about his impartiality. A judge may think he can rule without favor in a case involving a big benefactor — but no one else will. The public has to have some confidence that judges will rule on the law and not for their own political benefit…. Astonishing amounts of money are being spent here and around the country on judicial races. That money’s not seeking the best, most impartial courts. That money’s trying to sway the courts in one direction or the other.”
Judges are supposed to be impartial, but a system that essentially requires judicial candidates to seek benefactors will cost the judiciary the perception of impartiality among the public. It is very difficult for the public to have faith in a judge who seems to have shareholders. The public needs a judge who knows the law and will reliably apply it without bias.
The editorial wraps up with this statement: “If we can’t take money out of politics, we can try to take the judiciary out of politics. We need a system of judicial appointment with political checks and balances, a merit system.”
We agree, and hope that the people of both Illinois and Pennsylvania soon have the opportunity to choose such a system.