On Bench for Dollars

Voting for judges has always alarmed me. For instance, here in Ohio, judges are elected as high as the State Supreme Court. Seeing D/R or Democrat/Republican beside the judge’s name on the ballot seemed to be counter to what many of us expect from the judicial system. Politicizing the bench subjects one to the special-interest dollars of businesses, unions, lobbies, and yes – even political parties and the bar association.

This past Monday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Caperton v. Massey. The bottom line of this case is that Massey Coal’s CEO donated considerably more money to unseat a judge he didn’t like in favor of one he liked. The newly-elected judge refused to excuse himself from the case, so the basis of the case. Monday’s ruling supported the notion that the judge in question was subject to bias, thus should have excused himself.

Labeled as a First Amendment case, an opposing view (in USA Today) wrote, “The ‘new probability of bias’ is unworkable because it creates confusion and leaves the bench open to manipulation.” At least the writer acknowledged the court is currently open to manipulation, a pathetic notion on its own.

States have the role of determining the selection of judges, and hopefully Caperton v. Massey will encourage states to reform their process. Get the special-interest dollars out of the equation – and yes – that includes political-party support. No labels, no endorsements, no campaign donations, and no attack ads. If states determine to continue the election of judges, these respected positions should be based on merit and campaigned only with public-financed dollars. We simply deserve better in and from our judiciary.

To learn more about the case: