March 25, 2008

Do voters want a judiciary to be favorable or fair?

A 2001-2002 survey cited in a recent Wall Street Journal article had some disappointing results: "Seventy-six percent of Americans believe that campaign contributions influence judicial decisions" and "46% of state court judges agree." And that survey was from around the same time as the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to allow candidates in a judicial election to be vocal about their ideals and morals. This may distract voters from the importance of an independent judiciary that does not legislate from the bench.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has expressed fear that judicial elections have become "political prize-fights, where partisans and special interests seek to install judges who will answer to them instead of the law and the constitution." Since 39 states elect at least some of their judges, it would appear that voters have more power than they think in determining the outcome of a court case. Those of us who acknowledge the importance of constitutional judges (including the judges themselves) need to educate people on the purpose of the judiciary and why it needs to be independent.

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