Jewish World Review Dec. 4, 2002 / 29 Kislev, 5763

Dan Abrams

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Why we need to stop electing judges


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Thirty-nine states have some form of judicial elections, and in almost all cases, the voters know little or nothing about the candidates. When I voted in New York, there was only one judicial candidate on the ballot running as both the Republican and the Democrat.

IN MOST cases, the one source of useful information - the local bar associations - are ignored or irrelevant. The "National Law Journal" reports that in Chicago, for example, eight winning candidates were rated unqualified by a variety of legal groups. Remember, that rating is almost always a reflection of the person's temperament, work ethic or intelligence, not politics.

More importantly, a good candidate says nothing about whether the person would make a good judge. Who wants judges who are going to owe fat cats after the elections? And according to Derek Bok, former president of Harvard Law School, when it comes to judicial elections, nearly half the campaign funds come from lawyers and law firm.

What kind of system is that? How can they really remain objective if they know a controversial ruling could galvanize special interest groups against him or her in the next election? Sometimes the judge's job is to make decisions that will be unpopular, like declaring the law unconstitutional. Making the tough legal calls should not mean a judge loses his or her job.

Now you may say why not trust the voters? For the same reason we have term limits. A decision has been made that it's just not good for the system.

Maybe it's time to have all state judges appointed by governors. Maybe nonpartisan committees should make the call. Anything, but elections. They force judges to act, well, injudiciously.

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JWR contributor Dan Abrams anchors “The Abrams Report,” Monday through Friday from 6-7 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV. He also covers legal stories for “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw,” “Today” and “Dateline NBC.” To visit his website, click here. Comment by clicking here.

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