Don’t elect judges

An election in Wisconsin shows why they jeopardize courts’ impartiality.
  • Daily Editorial Board
April 13, 2011

The recent Wisconsin Supreme Court election was and continues to be a disgrace to the dignity of the state’s highest court. It is a perfect example of why state supreme court justices should not be an elected office.
The election — the result of which is still uncertain pending a recount — became distinctly partisan after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker introduced a bill that would take away most collective bargaining rights from public employees. Essentially, the election became a referendum on Walker’s bill. That is not the way a judge should earn his or her way to a spot on a state supreme court.
While both candidates accepted public financing and the accompanying spending limits, $3.5 million of funding from outside groups poured in to influence voters in the election. This has disturbing implications for the impartiality of the court.
When the lines of partisanship are as clearly drawn as they were in this election, the winner will feel an obligation to defend the policies of the organizations that help win the election. Once elected, a judge will be pressured to make rulings with an eye toward re-election.
A judge should never lose his or her office because of politics or an unpopular ruling. Last November, three Iowa Supreme Court justices were defeated after ruling in favor of legalizing gay marriage. Removing those justices was unfair, just as removing a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice because of Walker’s collective bargaining bill would be — especially since the justice in question hasn’t even ruled on the bill.
Judges should have a loyalty only to the law, not to the whims of the masses. State supreme court justices shouldn’t be chosen in elections.

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