Apr 09 2015
Dave Davies of National Public Radio recently interviewed former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Sue Bell Cobb an outspoken critic of judicial elections on the Fresh Air program.
Although her 2006 campaign for the Alabama Supreme Court is the second most expensive judicial election on record, that is likely to change this year with three seats open on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. For judicial candidates to be successful, they must raise significant amounts of money. According to Justice Cobb, this is primarily because judicial candidates cannot effectively get their message out without airing campaign ads on television, which are increasingly expensive.
The requirement that judges must raise money and the influence of money in political races is increasingly problematic as it fosters a negative public perception of the judiciary. Judges are supposed to be fair and impartial.
In Justice Cobb’s view, “It’s just not the way that judges ought to be elected because it is really tawdry. It’s difficult. It’s demeans the court, demeans the position. It’s just not appropriate. It absolutely makes people think less of the courts and judges. Nobody wants judges to have their hands out”
In addition to the problems inherent in fundraising by judicial candidates, judicial elections also require candidates who are also sitting judges to split their time. As Justice Cobb stated, “The time away from the office is a significant reason why we should not have judges selected the way they are selected in most states in the United States.”
Recalling her own time as a judicial candidate, Justice Cobb explained that she spent a significant amount away from her primary role of serving the public interest as a judge in order to remain competitive. “There was absolutely no way that I could do the job that was required for the people of Alabama and raise the amount of money that it was going to take to be re-elected.”
Along with Alabama, Pennsylvania is one of only six states that elect all our judges in partisan judicial elections. It’s clear that our system isn’t working. It’s time for merit selection in Pennsylvania. We deserve it.