A Good Idea Blooms in Texas
February 13, 2009, 10:03 am
Filed under: Ian | Tags: ,

Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson has an outstanding idea, eliminate the election of new judges in that state and allow future judges to be appointed.  Judicial elections are a terrible idea because judges generally deal with hypertechinical legal questions that are not readily understood by lay voters.  You wouldn’t want the mathematics department at the University of Texas to be elected by the general public, or to have cancer researchers selected by popular referendum.  So why would you elect judicial officers whose expertise is just as specialized as that of a mathematician or a scientist?  I have no idea how to practice medicine, so I leave it to people who actually do to hire and fire doctors.

But that’s not the best reason to eliminate judicial elections.  The best reason is because they are corrupt.  In 1998, a West Virginia coal company called Massey Energy was ordered to pay $50 milllion to one of its competetors for its own fraudulent business practices.  Rather than just pay the money, or appeal the decision to an impartial tribunal, Massey decided instead to stack the deck.  Three million dollars is less than $50 million, so Massey donated three million dollars to fund the campaign of a candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court.  That candidate is now Justice Brent D. Benjamin, and Justice Benjamin case the key vote reversing the $50 million verdict against Massey.

So Massey made a 1666% return on its investment, not a bad deal.

Of course, for the rest of us, letting coal companies buy and sell state supreme court justices may not be such a good idea.  Which is why I’m hoping that the United States Supreme Court will reverse Justice Benjamin’s corrupt decision, as they have an opportunity to do in Caperton v. Massey.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Yeah, terrific logic – An appointment process could never be corrupted. (????)

Comment by WTF

Yeah, terrific logic – An appointment process could never be corrupted. (????)

The choice is not between judicial elections and a perfect, uncorrupt practice. The choice is between appointments and a process which allows well-moneyed interests to effectively bribe judges by making substantial contributions to their campaigns. Given the choice, I’ll take appointments.

I’ll also add that many states have implemented procedures to reduce the degree of corruption in appointments, such as creating non-partisan commissions who evaluate judicial candidates on the basis of merit and submit lists of names to the governor which the governor must choose from. I suppose those commissions could be bribed, but bribing a commission is illegal, unlike spending $3 million to elect the supreme court justice of your choice.

Comment by Ian

This may be one of the few issues that I am in agreement with Overrruled’s blogmeister. Judicial elections are a joke. Either nobody knows (or cares) about what is going on, or else the election becomes highly partisan – and it works in both directions. For every judge purchased by the business community, there is one owned lock, stock and mustache by the plaintiff bar. Justice, of course, loses in either case

I can’t say that I blame the trial bar or big business for buying judges, since that is the way the game is played, but it would be far better to do away with the whole sorry charade and appoint the judiciary

Comment by avenger

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