Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Electing Judges

I was driving this morning and finished listening to the book I had on CD, so I switched to NPR's Morning Edition. One of the stories was about when a judge should recuse him/herself and a case being argued in the US Supreme Court today.

I was amazed to hear that there are over 35 states where judges are elected. Maybe it is my naivete from having lived so long in states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island) where the judges are appointed by the Executive Branch and confirmed by the Legislative, to think about this. However, judicial election signs have sprung up in New Orleans.

But then I remember the election in Wisconsin last April. It was a pretty mean and dirty campaign. In composing this, I found a new web source, "Judgepedia" which has an interesting overview of the upcoming Wisconsin election. There is a long discussion on the Judgepedia page about some of the discussion of the pros and cons of judicial appointment as opposed to electing judges.

Maybe this was in my "scope" because yesterday I read the latest issue of "Deliberations Newsletter" from ALA's professional Parliamentarian, Eli Mina. While the newsletter is not archived on his web site (that I could quickly find), let me quote what resonated with me upon hearing the judge story on NPR:
Sometime ago I sat in as an observer at an orientation session for a newly elected municipal council. The guest speaker was a former mayor and an experienced politician. He provided useful advice, but there was something he did that annoyed me: Every few sentences he would insert phrases like: "and this will help you get re-elected" or "this is one thing you definitely cannot afford to do, even if you know it's needed, because it will surely undermine your ability to get re-elected" and, to cap it all: "every decision you make over the next three years must be guided by one key question: will it get you re-elected?"

Apparently I wasn't the only one who was annoyed. I was delighted to hear the newly elected mayor finally interrupt the speaker and make this refreshing statement: "Sir, I can assure you that getting re-elected is the last thing on my mind and I believe on the minds of my colleagues. With all due respect, we ran for office to help make a difference for the community of today and the community of tomorrow. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we cannot afford to be distracted by the fear of not get re-elected. This whole thing is not about us as individuals, but about what we do collectively to advance the interests of our community." I had to resist the temptation to shout: "Hurrah !!"
Thinking about running for re-election and electiong judges, certainly puts the Supreme Court case in a different light!

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