Should judges be elected

Esther - posted on 05/26/2010 ( 12 moms have responded )

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I read an op-ed in the NY Times this weekend by Sandra Day O'Connor where she is advocating having judges be appointed by a nominating committee and then when they've served a few years allowing voters to decide whether they can stay or they have to go. Jonathan Bernstein in the Washington post responded to her op-ed piece and argued that judges should be taken off the ballot altogether because voters simply are not equiped to judge the judges and because any type of election (retention or otherwise) invites politics into the justice system. Money Quote from Bernstein:

It's not remotely realistic to expect that voters make careful decisions about judges. Not really because of the technical expertise needed to do so, but because of the numbers game. Voters don't sit down and carefully consider the case for and against handfuls of state judges, on top of federal, state, and local legislative and executive branch candidates, not to mention in many places both state and local ballot measures. Instead, voters use shortcuts, with the big one being party affiliation. O'Connor's preference is for a yes/no vote on incumbent judges (something already used in some states), but in reality voters have no idea who their states' judges are, much less whether they're doing a good job or not. What this translates into is incumbent judges who are safe unless they annoy a well-funded interest group, a coalition of groups, or a political party. Is that really what we want? Judges who know that their jobs are safe as long as they don't rattle any cages -- at least not any cages that can do full-scale opposition research and produce TV ads?


I have to say that I agree with Bernstein. Admittedly, I'm from a country where there are no elections for judges and the whole concept is therefore foreign to me. Judges are appointed for life. Nobody has any clue about their political affiliations and nobody cares. They are appointed based on their legal abilities. I personally prefer that system. I don't see how judges can be independent if they have to please their supporters. What do you all think?

Here are the links to both articles:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/opinio...

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-kl...

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Suzette - posted on 05/27/2010

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Carol, Supreme Court Justices are not elected, none of the judges in the Federal Courts are. (U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals, or the U.S. District Courts.)



The State courts are entirely different, and differ from state to state. Each state usually has their court system set up somewhat alike with two sets of trial courts that include one that has limited jurisdiction and takes care of family & traffic, etc. and the other will take care of general jurisdiciton. They also have Appellate courts - not all states have these. They then have the highest state courts, sometimes referred to as the State Supreme Court but they usually have different names. Most of the State Judges are elected or appointed, sometimes both, and it's for a certain number of years.



I personally believe that the State judges shouldn't be elected either... but I highly doubt that'll ever change.



(Here's a site that might explain it a bit better, I needed to look at it for a refresher, it's been a while since I took my law classes on the way the judicial system is set up - and even longer since I worked in the courts... LOL.)

http://www.uscourts.gov/EducationalResou...

Esther - posted on 05/27/2010

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Suzette - I don't believe ANY politician should be able to nominate any judge. Not just the president. No governor, no senator, no politicians period. I also don't think a judges party affiliation should be known. They should be selected purely based on their legal skills and track record. And I do not think your general voter (that would include me btw) would be able to make that determination without extensive legal knowledge themselves.

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Suzette - posted on 05/28/2010

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Carol,

No problem, it's confusing to say the least and that's for someone who is informed. To be honest, after I was old enough to vote I refused to do so simply because I felt I wasn't informed enough. The politicians do not inform you on the issues, they inform you on what they WANT you to be informed about, their agenda. And even then it's only what they feel is important. What they want to sell you on. The entire process doesn't attempt to inform you and the only way you can get informed is to take a few college courses. Even then you're nowhere near informed enough, there's too much information to swallow. I personally do not believe this is the way the founding fathers wished for the process to be run. We've strayed so far from what it was meant to be, it's become nothing but a circus full of performers. Even now, I don't feel comfortable voting half of the time. My husband is the one who's the political shark so I have him keep me as informed as possible before I'll make a decision on anything. (Thankfully he is a shark! lol.)

Johnny - posted on 05/27/2010

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Thanks Suzette. That clears it up (somewhat, lol) I knew that Federal judges were not elected, and we get more than enough coverage up here of your Supreme Court nomination process (I'm still scarred by the endless coverage of the Thomas hearings), but I was a bit confused because I'd seen election signage and ads for judges while traveling about in your fine country.

I would agree that judges should not be open to election at any level. It often seems that the sheer amount of things being voted on must lead to voter apathy, confusion, and uninformed decisions. We see a lot of what goes on in Washington State elections, and between the Presidential, Congressional, Senatorial, State governor, state representatives, state senators, civic officials, school boards, county officials, sheriffs, judges, comptrollers, auditors, attorney general, commissioners, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, not to mention all of the various resolutions and referendums both state wide and civic, it is truly boggling. I can not imagine that even the most politically minded, attentive, and engaged citizen is truly informed about each of the nominees for these positions and their true stance on the issues. I have trouble figuring out who to vote for, and we just have one national member of parliament, one provincial legislature member, one mayor, 10 civic alderpersons, parks board and school board to vote for.

Johnny - posted on 05/27/2010

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Excuse my ignorance of your judicial system, but I was under the impression that some of the members of your justice system are elected. Such as district attorneys and sheriffs. But not judges? Could someone perhaps clarify :-)

I do agree that electing judges is a poor idea, and that they should be selected by non-partisan committees purely on their legal knowledge and abilities.

Suzette - posted on 05/27/2010

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Esther, I completely agree with you. I have some legal knowledge from classes but there's no way that I know enough to vote on placing a judge into that status, perhaps a state judge, but not a supreme court judge. Not without extensive research at least. And allowing our politicians a place to "nominate" them allows political affiliation that shouldn't be there. It murks up the waters terribly.

Suzette - posted on 05/26/2010

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As a side note, I do not believe that the president should be able to nominate anyone. I believe that this allows politics to play somewhat of a part in the justice system and it bugs the living hell out of me. lol

Suzette - posted on 05/26/2010

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"I read an op-ed in the NY Times this weekend by Sandra Day O'Connor where she is advocating having judges be appointed by a nominating committee and then when they've served a few years allowing voters to decide whether they can stay or they have to go. Jonathan Bernstein in the Washington post responded to her op-ed piece and argued that judges should be taken off the ballot altogether because voters simply are not equiped to judge the judges and because any type of election (retention or otherwise) invites politics into the justice system."

Personally I don't like the statement that "voters simply are not equipped to judge the judges" however, I do not have the faith in MOST American people that they have the capability to judge the judges. (I'm not saying all, just in general.)

I do agree that it would invite politics into the justice system and the reason it was set up the way it was is so that would not happen. Allowing voters and politics into the justice system would be dangerous IMO. It would turn into something much like the presidency elections. We don't need that in the justice system.

[deleted account]

No! Judges should be able to make impartial decisions based on points of law. This should not be hindered by re-election. It's obvious the opinions of voters will affect a judges opinion whether they admit to it or not. The judiciary is a separate power and politics should be left out of it.

ME - posted on 05/26/2010

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Exactly Sara! We don't need our judges beholden to special interest groups too!

Sara - posted on 05/26/2010

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I absolutely think that judges should not be elected. As we've seen with other branches of government, there's far too many special interest groups involved in politics for judges, if they were elected, to not be influenced by them. I think that the current system is fair and aids judges in making decisions fairly and justly.

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