In the Nation's Interest

Why Judges Should Be Appointed, Not Elected

This November, citizens in 31 states won't just vote for president. They'll also decide the fate of over 200 judicial candidates, from the local level up to their state supreme courts. The candidates who triumph will end up addressing matters with major implications for democracy and our economy. Contract disputes, tort cases, zoning regulations – all can fall under the jurisdiction of state courts.

With the stakes this high, it begs the question: are elections the best way to ensure that judges can decide cases objectively, insulated from political pressure? 

Judges rightfully deserve praise for their public service and commitment to the pursuit of justice. But lawmakers put judges in a real bind when they enact laws that call for judicial elections. Under these circumstances, it only makes sense that judges are motivated to raise contributions and seek the approval of voters. While such steps appear innocuous, they can lead to campaigns and interest groups engaging in mudslinging, and occasionally result in a judge who weighs decisions on a political balance. This scenario may sound all too familiar, as some judicial contests start to mirror the bickering and distortions that characterize many races for legislative and executive offices. 

Along with its negative effects on judicial fairness, electing judges can also weaken an area's economy. Globalization and technological progress now allow capital to cross borders with unprecedented ease. The slightest red flag can encourage investors to take their business elsewhere. In one survey, seven out of 10 companies reported that a state's litigation climate is likely to impact important business decisions, such as where to locate. And among the eight states that received a top ranking for their business climates, just one held judicial contests. Robust market economies clearly depend on stable, even-handed legal environments.

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