Dec 07 2011
A recent article in the Texas Tribune discusses the potential in statewide judicial elections for candidates to be selected based on criteria no less superficial than the ethnic indicia a name provides.
The article, titled “The Cues Voters Use to Elect Unknown Candidates,” argues that “voters choose dozens of important state officials in every election without knowing a thing about them. So they rely on other cues — like political affiliations, pleasing names and who knows what else.” The article runs through some of the results of recent Texas appellate court elections, and tries to reconstruct the reasoning voters might have employed when making their selections.
Noting that the preeminent quality that voters in Texas are looking for is a “Republican ‘R’ behind [a candidate’s] name”, the article proposes that the real contest for officials occurs in the G.O.P. primary in March, giving even less time for voters to actually understand a candidate and make an informed choice, and leaving far less relevant qualities of candidates to serve as deciding factors.
The article poses the question, “When little else is known about two candidates in a G.O.P. primary, is a Hispanic surname a liability?” The judicial race in which Stephen Wayne Smith was victorious against Xavier Rodriguez for a spot on the Texas Supreme Court is used as an illustrative example. Little was known about either candidate going into the election. What, then, did the voters rely upon when making their choice? Names were all the public had available to them in the voting booth; it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether names decided the race.
When we elect judges in contested elections, we unconsciously – or consciously, as the case may be – impose our own biases and agendas onto the concept of justice, something that should be set wholly apart from politics, prejudices, and ideology. A judiciary must serve the people, but a judge’s fitness to serve should be determined by his or her ability to interpret the law and see that justice is fairly administered – not the ability to win votes, and certainly not by factors as inconsequential as a surname.Tags: judicial elections, name recognition, Texas, Xavier Rodriguez