Apr 05 2012
An editorial in Tacoma, WA’s News Tribune warns its readers against the potential impact of the controversial Citizens United decision and the subsequent proliferation of SuperPACs on the state’s judicial elections. The piece describes how the decision removed long-standing restraints on campaign contributions from moneyed interests, and made no delineation between political and judicial elections. It then posits that “[i]n states that insist on using popularity contests to pick their judges, the threat to an impartial judiciary is obvious.”
The News Tribune portrays judicial elections in Washington as traditionally “quiet affairs”, generally free from Caperton v. Massey-style “influence-buying” or from candidates injudiciously advertising their positions on political issues or legal controversies. What makes Citizens United so dangerous, the paper argues, is its potential to turn the focus from judicial qualifications to each judge’s political stances. As the piece deftly illustrates, “[p]romises to rule in a particular way are the opposite of justice. All litigants deserve judges who haven’t made up their minds before hearing the cases.” The editorial concludes that
[t]he ultimate protection lies with Washington’s citizens. If voters don’t see the fundamental difference between judicial and political races, that difference will fade. Our courts will wind up on the auction block, with justice sometimes going to the highest bidder.
We agree with the News Tribune’s assessment, and hope that more states will consider switching to systems of Merit Selection, so that the unlimited campaign contributions of Citizens United will not be able to directly impact each state’s judiciary.