An important new report from The Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board delivers stinging criticism of judicial elections and says fundamental reform is urgently needed. “[A]ppointment should be the basic principle applied to the selection of all judges,” the report says in favoring merit-based judicial selection.
“State judges make decisions in over 100 million cases annually, but their ability to handle these matters impartially is put at risk when floods of election money pour into the judiciary,” said Bob Kueppers, former Deputy CEO of Deloitte and Co-Chair of CED’s Money in Politics Subcommittee, which led the study, in a statement. “Appointing them based on merit will insulate them from the political pressures caused by campaigns and, ultimately, help to ensure that justice is fairly applied.”
The CED report says, “Elections encourage candidates to raise campaign contributions and appeal to voters, which exposes judges to partisan political pressures and interest group politicking aimed at influencing their behavior.” It zeroes in on concerns of the business community:
“The business community is deeply concerned about the damaging effects of elections on the independence and integrity of our state courts. The risks posed by the influence of donor interests and political pressures are too great to guarantee unbiased outcomes or to maintain public confidence in the courts. Survey research commissioned by CED revealed that the vast majority of business leaders worry that campaign contributions have a major effect on the decisions rendered by judges, and found near universal concern that the demands of campaigning will make judges accountable to politicians and special interest groups rather than the law. These views are widely shared by the public.”
CED is a nonprofit, nonpartisan business-led public policy organization, and a Justice at Stake partner organization. Its report has case studies of high-spending judicial elections in Florida (2012) and Cole County, Mo. (2014). It has data about spending in judicial elections drawn from research by JAS and its partner organizations. The CED report makes these key recommendations:
- Create a commission-based appointment process, like one used in Arizona, to hold judges accountable. Commissions should be independent and nonpartisan, and responsible for preparing a list of nominees for judicial appointments to be made by a state’s governor.
- Develop judicial performance evaluation commissions. These independent and nonpartisan entities would be responsible for recommending whether a judge should be retained in office. Recommendations would be made available to the public and the relevant appointing authority.
- Review current salaries to ensure that appropriate levels of compensation are provided to judges at all levels.
- Support stricter standards of recusal to help resolve conflict of interest or bias resulting from campaign donations.
The report is titled “Choosing Justice? The Need for Judicial Selection Reform.” It concludes:
“We urge public officials, members of the business community, judges, members of the legal profession, and community leaders in the states to join in our efforts to increase public understanding of the importance of an independent judiciary and the consequences of judicial elections. We call upon these leaders to work together to initiate urgently needed reforms before the rule of law is further eroded by the perception that justice is for sale and the public loses faith that ‘justice will be done.'”
Read the original story at http://gavelgrab.org/?p=100508