from an expert in the field:
ElEctions allo W tHE ElEctoRatE to punish rogue judges.
consider the following case: thirty-eight states in the u.s. currently
authorize the death penalty, and the u.s. supreme court has found that
the death penalty does not run afoul of federal constitutional protec-
tions. but what about a judge who refuses to uphold the death penalty
because of his or her own political preferences opposing capital punish-
ment? in this situation, the judge would be disregarding the rule of law and specific mandates
enacted by representative institutions reflecting public will. should this judge be allowed to
continue in office? While it would be nearly impossible to remove this judge in an appointive
system, voters in elective states could easily do so in the next election.
Will voters turn out in these elections and have enough information to participate and
vote meaningfully? the evidence indicates that they will. i have been studying this issue for
many years and found that:
1. the public is generally interested in these elections and can be motivated to participate
in high numbers.
2. Voters are able to distinguish between qualified candidates (those with prior judicial
experience) and less qualified candidates. moreover, they do just as well in identifying qualified candidates and voting in state supreme court elections as they do in congressional or
state legislative races.
What about the argument that we get “better” judges in systems where elites handpick
judges (such as retention systems)? there is simply no evidence for this. indeed, in 2007,
researchers choi, gulati and Posner argued that judges elected in partisan elections,
in some dimensions, are actually of higher quality than those selected via other means.
in sum, judicial elections are effective mechanisms for holding judges accountable for
behavior and thus can promote quality judicial behavior. the evidence suggests that partisan
elections are the most effective mechanisms, with nonpartisan elections and retention elections
being far less effective. it is time to abandon outdated myths and falsehoods about judges and
what they do, and it is time to take seriously the merits of electing judges. C
Chris W. Bonneau is associate professor of political science at
the University of Pittsburgh. He co-authored the book In;Defense
of;Judicial;Elections (2009, Routledge).
APriL deBAte reSULtS:
Is obesity a disease?
Percentage reflects votes
received by April 14, 2010.
MArCH deBAte reSULtS:
Should air travelers be required
to undergo whole-body
YeS: 18% no: 82%
Percentage reflects votes received by
March 31, 2010. Results may reflect
Debate being picked up by blogs.
from an expert in the field:
rebecca Love Kourlis, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice
and trial court judge, established the Institute for the Advancement of
the American Legal System (
ElEctions mEan building support for specific agendas. that may
make sense for the city council or state legislature, but judges have a different duty to the people they serve. they’re supposed to apply the law fairly,
regardless of who comes before them—Republican or democrat, man or
woman, individual or corporation.
individuals and organizations give money to the election campaigns of
judges. in fact, the average cost to run for a state supreme court seat is a staggering $1 million. if
you were in court, and the judge ruled in the other party’s favor, would you wonder if the decision
was based on the law and fairness, or if it was influenced by political friendships and money?
Justice sandra day o’connor, with the institute for the advancement of the american legal
system at the university of denver, recently established a new initiative for appointing judges that
includes citizen input and promotes accountability, but does not jeopardize a judge’s impartiality.
step one is creating a nominating commission, a majority of whom would be non-lawyers.
the commission members are appointed by decision makers such as the governor, the chief
justice, the president of the senate or the speaker of the House for set terms to avoid an overdose
of one constituency. the commission screens applicants based on their qualifications, makes
a list of the best potential judges and submits the list to the governor.
in step two, the governor appoints a judge from that list.
during step three, each judge undergoes a job-performance evaluation by people who use
the court system, such as attorneys, litigants, jurors, witnesses and court staff. the evaluation
rates qualities such as whether judges are impartial, efficient and clear in their rulings.
in step four, citizens vote to keep or remove a judge based on his or her record. those
elections occur at regular intervals for each judge; the judge’s name is on the ballot with a
yes/no vote—no opponent and no party affiliation.
seven states use this approach for some or all of their judges already, and it is gaining trac-
tion. in november, nevada voters may adopt a similar plan, and half a dozen other states are
considering doing the same. Why? because more of us than ever realize that justice at a price
is no justice at all. C
MAY 2010 The Costco Connection 17
Opinions expressed are those of the individuals
or organizations represented and are presented
to foster discussion. Costco and The;Costco
Connection take no position on any Debate topic.