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When Judges Are Elected

Jeff Danziger

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

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  1. Kurt CPI November 7, 2014

    This is the most deadly target of Citizens United. Judges who hear arguments for/against legislative action are supposed to limit their opinion to the legal merits, not interject their own or those of their campaign sponsors. The people introduce legislation, either through their elected representatives, or through initiatives and referendums. The legislature or a vote of the people initially decide whether or not it becomes law. The judicial branch can hear only legal challenges. They are to base their decisions/opinions solely on the basis of whether it conflicts with existing law, or violates the mandates of the State or US Constitution as the case may be. Unfortunately I still believe that elected judicial positions are a lesser evil than appointed ones. Either way, the dark money exerts influence. But the people, with the mix of political philosophies, is less likely to install a judge based on who will best support the philosophies of whoever happens to be in office when the appointment occurs. It’s not elected judicial positions that create the worst of the problem, it’s Citizens United.

  2. Allan Richardson November 7, 2014

    A slightly less corrupt alternative is the “retention vote” system in use in some states, such as Florida. In theory, it works like this: when there is a vacancy for a judge, for any reason, the governor (usually working from a list of qualified judges or attorneys compiled by the Bar association) appoints someone. At specified intervals, a year or two, all judges appear on the general election ballot with a yes or no retention question. Judges voted up remain on the bench, while those voted down are replaced as described.

    There are both pros and cons to this. Firstly, since no judge is running for office against another, the voters’ choice is clear: keep the good, or at least acceptable ones, oust the bad. No campaign ads to pay for in order to stay in office, or to acquire the office, at least normally. And since no specific potential replacement is running, there is less of the chance for a “fresh face” to take the bench by out-glamorizing the incumbent.

    The cons? In theory, a judge should be voted down ONLY when voters are aware of actual corruption on the bench, and the press should report on such corruption and expose it, making the facts available. The one dark spot is that a special interest can finance “vote no” ads because they do not like that judge’s rulings, and often give voters incorrect or misleading reasons to vote no, not always the real ones (for example, if a judge has fined oil companies for pollution, those oil companies might make up a “Judge X is not a real American” attack on his personal life and tell voters to vote Judge X out of office). But those attacks being rare, most judges keep their jobs with GOOD behavior.

    Maybe we need a federal Consitutional Amendment to put Supreme Court justices up for retention every two years before the voters of the entire nation, and mid-level appellate judges before the voters of the states in their jurisdiction.


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