Nov 28 2012
Texas selects its judges via partisan judicial elections, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett acknowledges that there are problems with this system. “Hate the game, don’t hate the player,” he said. “Our imperfect system requires judicial candidates to put on their game face, get over their delicate sensibilities, and run unabashedly the way Texas law defines them: as politicians.”
Justice Willett has been criticized for running his reelection campaign on a staunchly conservative platform. But in a series of emails between Justice Willet and The San Antonio Express-News, he tries to explain the “dance” that judicial candidates have to navigate in order to earn a place on the bench. “Justices [are] expected to rule impartially after emerging from campaign fights.”
Justice Willet admits that during his campaign his “singular goal was to appeal to hardcore Republican voters and activists.” Despite espousing hardcore conservative politics during his campaign, Justice Willet avows that he remains fair and impartial in the courtroom. “My vote follows the law,
no matter who the parties are or what they believe. If the law’s on your side, I won’t hesitate a nanosecond before ruling in your favor….”
The stark dichotomy between how judges are forced to act during campaigns and how they’re mandated to act on the bench is a clear indication that partisan elections are not a suitable method of judicial selection. When a judicial candidate solicits votes by advertising that he holds certain beliefs, that’s like a promise — a promise that’s impossible to fulfill. Further, it’s a promise that we wouldn’t want fulfilled.
Judges are supposed to be unbiased. We don’t want them to adhere to political ideologies. We want them to abide by the law. Judges
aren’t “dancers” and they shouldn’t be politicians either. Instead of “hating the game” we should change the rules. Judicial selection should be based on qualifications, not political connections.