Judicial elections, democratic appointment (e.g., senate confirmation), and the Missouri Plan (a/k/a "merit selection")

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Former Chief Justice of Alabama "Disgusted" by What She Had to Do to Get Elected

Sue Bell Cobb writes in Politico "I never quite got over the feeling of being trapped inside a system whose very structure left me feeling disgusted."

Justice Cobb's article entitled "I Was Alabama’s Top Judge. I’m Ashamed by What I Had to Do to Get There: How money is ruining America’s courts" says

"In Alabama, would-be judges are allowed to ask for money directly. We can make calls not just to the usual friends and family but to lawyers who have appeared before us, lawyers who are likely to appear before us, officials with companies who may very well have interests before the court. And I did."

Justice Cobb: "When a judge asks a lawyer who appears in his or her court for a campaign check, it’s about as close as you can get to legalized extortion. Lawyers who appear in your court, whose cases are in your hands, are the ones most interested in giving. It’s human nature: Who would want to risk offending the judge presiding over your case by refusing to donate to her campaign? They almost never say no—even when they can’t afford it."

Bringing back memories of when I lived in Alabama, Justice Cobb mentions the notorious TV ad portraying the opposing judicial candidate as a skunk. I wrote about Alabama judicial elections, in  Money, Politics and Judicial Decisions

Unfortunately, Justice Cobb does not highlight the lawmaking role of state supreme court justices, and instead says they’re "supposed to apply the settled law against the facts and evidence of the case before their court." That sounds more like a trial court. The state supreme court has lots of discretion in making the law "settled" in one direction or another so lower courts can then apply it. It's that lawmaking role of supreme courts that justifies a democratic form of judicial selection, rather than what Justice Cobb calls "merit selection."

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