The Washington Post dedicated an entire editorial, headlined “Buying and selling judges,” to decrying the fundamental problems that judicial elections pose for impartial courts. The editorial called for an end to judicial elections. It relied heavily on Justice at Stake’s latest “New Politics 2009-10” report.
Special-interest groups independently paid out almost one-third of the $38 million spent on state supreme court campaigns, the editorial said in citing from the report. “For those who believe that judges should be bought, sold and marketed like any other product, the 2009-10 election cycle brought welcome developments,” it stated.
But for those who defend fair courts, the report documented “disturbing findings,” which “once more affirm the need to discard the election of judges.” With just 10 outside groups accounting for nearly 40 percent of all the spending during the election cycle, “the incursion and influence of special interests grew,” it said.
In addition, retention (up-or-down) elections were no longer protected from “the most pernicious political elements,” the editorial pointed out. Three judges were swept off the Iowa Supreme Court over a controversial ruling that permitted same-sex marriages. Almost $5 million was spent on retention elections in the last election cycle, compared to $2.2 million raised by candidates in all retention elections between 2000 and 2009. The editorial concluded:
“The message was clear: Render decisions that rile the public and risk the loss of your seat.
“This is precisely the problem with judicial elections. Judges should not have to worry about pleasing political constituencies — whether they are business groups, unions or those who support a particular definition of marriage. Judges in many circumstances are meant to be a check against these forces and the unconstitutional excesses of the elected bodies. The notion of impartial justice for all is obliterated when judges are forced to think like politicians and to curry favor with monied interests just to keep their jobs.”
Joining Justice at Stake in co-authoring “New Politics of Judicial Elections: 2009-10″ were two of its partner groups, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.