Each election cycle, the amount of money spent on judicial elections rises. Each time that it does, the spotlight on this issue gets bigger and brighter. In most states, judicial candidates run in non-partisan elections. In the five 2006 Alabama Supreme Court races, the candidates spent more than 12 million dollars. In the 2008 national judicial election cycle, almost five million dollars was spent on television advertising in the week before the election.
Many folks say that electing officials is the best alternative. Doing so, they believe, keeps the “politics” out of the equation. Others believe that the only way to keep politics out of the decision is to follow Missouri’s lead and have judges selected by blue ribbon panels for given terms and then stand for retention elections. Recently, the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Wallace Jefferson, spoke out in favor of a non-political appointment system for judges. He targets the large sums spent on judicial elections as the impetus for his declaration:
Jefferson said he shares retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s concern about the "corrosive influence" of money on judge elections.
Even the perception that money influences court cases destroys public confidence, he said.
"A merit system, in which voters later vote the judge up or down, is the best remedy, but I commend any innovation in which the goals are to recruit and retain qualified judges, and to reduce the role of money in judicial campaigns," said Jefferson, to applause from legislators.
There are very few lawyers that I know who favor judicial elections. The amount of money involved in each campaign, even for local trial court judges, has become obscene. In 2006, few if any lawyers state wide could say that they knew, or knew of, each of the candidates running for office.
No solution will be perfect. From this writer’s view, however, the time for appointing judges in Alabama is now. What do you think?
Cum Laude graduate of Cumberland School of Law, Pet Mackey is a civil trial litigation expert who represents plaintiffs in business and consumer tort, contracts and construction, employment disputes and insurance. He is board certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a Certified Alabama Mediator, and an “AV” rated lawyer by Martindale-Hubbell.