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You Be The Judge!

In the United States, Federal Judges are appointed while the State and Local Judges are elected. Federal Judges are appointed for life and State and Local Judges are elected for a short period of time and must be reelected every term. The question arises, “Should any judge be appointed for life or should they be required to be elected by the people every term?”

The main reason why people believe judges should be elected is because then they are more accountable to the people that they are supposed to be representing.  The people that vote for them did so because of the judges’ positions on issues.  If they don’t represent the public that elected them, they wont get reelected the next term. However, there are also many disadvantages of electing judges.  Elected judges are able to buy their way into office (running expensive campaigns to touch greater numbers of voters) even if they have bad moral or ethics.  Elected judges can also more easily be influenced by special interests groups with money.

“As Iowa moved closer this week to replacing three Supreme Court justices ousted in November by voters who opposed the court’s ruling in favor of gay marriage, judicial analysts remained divided on what they see as a growing national trend of special-interest groups targeting judges with whom they disagree”

As is evident by the USA News quote above, special interest groups clearly affect which judges are elected and reelected.

“Judges are supposed to make decisions based on the law, not politics. But in 38 states, judges get elected to their jobs, and judicial candidates are raising big bucks and running TV attack ads. Judicial candidates spent more money running for office in 2004 than ever before. Meanwhile, special interest groups poured millions of dollars into their campaigns. Will the mountains of cash corrupt the independence of the courts?”

This quote from American RadioWorks, expresses the same sentiment – that elected officials are much too influenced by outside forces to be independent.

Those that believe that judges should be appointed believe so primarily because they believe appointed judges are less likely to be influenced by special interest groups with money and are less likely to be biased when interpreting the law, theoretically. Disadvantages would include the judges having too much power and having very few ways to get the judges out of office if their mental health begins to decline or if they choose to start abusing their power.  The only way a federal judge leaves office is by death, self-resignation, resignation due to age or impeachment (the latter being very difficult to achieve).

“We previously discussed  the bizarre case of Cook County Judge Cynthia Brim, a judge in Markham, Illinois who has been barred from entering the courthouse without police escort and has a prior arrest for assault. Despite long opposition from bar groups and her claiming insanity as a defense to the charge, Cook County voters returned her to the bench in a recent election”

In this example reported by The Chicago Tribune, an elected official was reelected after being declared insane.  Had this been an appointed official that suffered mental insanity without it being brought to light by the committing of a crime, the appointed official would still be in office. This story brings two questions to mind;  is the public well enough informed to be responsible for electing officials and is appointing officials to life terms when circumstances can change at any time a responsible act?

There are advantages and disadvantages to both appointing a judge and electing a judge. Appointing judges can cause judges to have too much and sometimes misdirected power but it also allows judges to be more independent and unbiased.  Electing judges can cause them to be unduly influenced by outside financial sources but also forces them to be true to the people or risk not being reelected.  It also allows for a natural exit if, for some reason, the judge becomes no longer suitable for the position. Perhaps the answer is in a compromise; I believe we should appoint a judge (rather than elect him) in order to benefit from his unbiased interpretation of the law, but limit his term to eight or ten years so that if he strays from his true interpretation of the law or becomes disabled or otherwise inappropriate for the position, his term is limited and he can be replaced with someone better suited for such an important job.  Chief Justice Warren Burger perhaps said it best when he said, “Judges rule on the basis of law, not public opinion, and they should be totally indifferent to pressures of the times.”  Any system or procedure that interferes with this goal should be changed.

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