Why judicial elections are scary (hint: see the 2010 Court of Appeals race)

Cross-posted from Progressive Pulse.

I usually confine my comments to health care because it’s the topic I spend my time studying.

But I do have a bit of experience with judicial races as I worked with the campaigns of Judges Linda McGee and Alan Thornburg on the North Carolina Court of Appeals. After the campaign I wrote an editorial for the News & Observer (that I think you now have to pay to see) entitled “Judicial Elections Don’t Work”. During that campaign various interest groups tried to convince judges to take pledges and make ironclad promises.

There is intense pressure to engage in the type of electioneering behavior that undermines the independence of the judiciary.

Howard Manning was likely not elected in 2004, for example, because he asked that the Republican Party not endorse him in the non-partisan Supreme Court race. Justice Paul Newby had no such reservations, and his name was sent out to thousands of Republicans across the state. Taking the high road rarely works in judicial elections. But the high road is the one we want our judges traveling.

That brings me to the 2010 race where the right-wing candidate Steven Walker is running for the Court of Appeals. How qualified is Walker to join that august body of jurists? He graduated from Campbell law in 2005 and has clerked on the Supreme Court for four years. Clerking, for those who don’t know, is working as a research assistant for a judge or justice. You read trial transcripts and briefs and work with your judge or justice to assemble an opinion.

Keep in mind that Walker is running against Judge Rick Elmore, a deeply experienced Republican judge. The problem, in Walker’s worldview, is that Elmore is just not Republican enough. There are actually several experienced candidates in the race. But with low turnout motivated tea partiers could put an ideologue and neophyte on the bench.

Walker’s website is filled with coded language to let you know that he is a proud member of the far right fringe. He says:

A vote for Steven will be a vote in returning the judiciary to its proper place–not an oligarchy to rule over the people, but a safeguard of the people’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Here is the first sentence under “Interests”:

Steven has been interested in firearms for a large portion of his life.

I see.

I suppose something good could come from electing Walker Texas Ranger to the Court of Appeals — maybe it would motivate the General Assembly to scrap our silly method of picking judges.

Comments

Real Judical State Campaigns Make Chaos with the Establishment

Howard Manning was likely not elected in 2004, for example, because he asked that the Republican Party not endorse him in the non-partisan Supreme Court race. Justice Paul Newby had no such reservations, and his name was sent out to thousands of Republicans across the state. Taking the high road rarely works in judicial elections. But the high road is the one we want our judges traveling.* Adam

Naw! Howard got his clock clean by Madame Justice along with 5 others and scare the crap out of the legal Republican establishment in almost pulling it off as the first Republican to tell the Republican Party to stuff it......You know no nothing of state wide Judical Campaigns......Read here

http://bluenc.com/the-truth-about-state-wide-judical-campaigns%3F

and really get informed.....Democracy only works when the voters make the selections and not a elite group of establishment suck ups who report to nobody.......

Thanks

for bringing this to the attention of those of us Republicans who read BlueNC. Walker appears to be a bright guy based on his limited record, but I don't think we need someone on the Court of Appeals with no legal experience other than being a law clerk. He only has 223 facebook followers though so I wouldn't be too concerned about him pulling off a win in May.

Timely

Thanks for a timely reminder of disasters waiting to happen.

Electing judges is bad policy. The integrity of our judicial branch depends on judges whose only commitment is to a fair and impartial application of the law to the specific facts of each case.

Election campaigns are intended to give candidates the opportunity to take issue positions and explain how they will deal with specific issues. They are intended to give citizens the chance to pin down candidates on where they stand and how they will vote. That is entirely appropriate with legislative candidates.

That's exactly what we DON'T want to see (or shouldn't) with a good judge--advance judgments on facts and cases that are not before them yet. How can we be confident in the fairness and impartiality of a trial or hearing if we are before a judge who has already declared how he or she will rule?

Dan Besse

Gotta agree with Dan on this one..

There are some very interesting sites that speak to this issue. Here are a few:

One

Two

Three

Four

This last one (Four) tells how the various states select their judges. Interesting to see the variations between states.

Me? I think appointment is the best, although I do see some of the arguments against that. I guess it's a kind of "lesser of two evils" thing for me.

Logic Connection

I agree that upsetting a sitting COA judge is unlikely -- but screwy things happen in elections. Because three judge panels sit on COA cases its not like Walker could overturn the system, but he could make mischief and gum up the courts.

COA judge

I personally feel we should select judges that will represent our values. You say "Election campaigns are intended to give candidates the opportunity to take issue positions and explain how they will deal with specific issues. They are intended to give citizens the chance to pin down candidates on where they stand and how they will vote." Personally I want to have a voice in the judicial system. Electing judges gives us a chance to choose someone who will represent the values this country was founded on. Part of what makes America great is being able to "choose" and not have appointed "dictators."
There is nothing "coded" about Steven Walker has to say. He clearly states what he believes in.

COA Judge

I am greatly disappointed in this blog. First of all, there is nothing "coded" about anything Steven Walker says on his website. He clearly states that he wants the law to be interpreted the way that it is written. As far as the Walker Texas Ranger nickname you have given him; we are in North Carolina, not Texas. You do not fear Steven Walker because you believe that he has a hidden agenda & does not mean what he says. You fear him because you see potential in him. Steven Walker seems like an honest man and I believe that he would be a great asset to the judicial system. Since when does your amount of Facebook fans have any relevance to reality? Are chances in presidential elections based on how many facebook fans one candidate has versus another?

Anabelle Leigh

Pick a user name,

and stick with it. We have enough mental problems on this blog without adding multiple personality disorders to the list.

Thank you

Well said.

Strict constructionist = hypocrite

Oh I am sure Mr. Walker would go by the exact wording of the 2nd amend. which starts off...

"A well regulated militia ..." so that only National Guard members should be able to own guns, right? and even they should be "well regulated", right?

Or the establishemnt clause of the 1st amend ...

Or the free speech part of the 1st amend which says NOTHING about corporations having free speech or that speech includes the giving of money.

Mr. Walker would go just by what is written and not use any sort of idealogical interpretation, riiiight.

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

Code

Interpreting the law the way it is written is code for interpreting the law to fit a right-wing agenda.

And, to be honest, I don't fear Steven Walker all that much. I fear a system where people fresh out of law school and still serving an internship could become a Court of Appeals judge. I understand that you can become a representative without ever having held down a job -- see Patrick McHenry and Andrew Brock -- but I expect more from judges.

Honestly, appellate judges probably should serve some time as district court judges first. The appellate courts are supposed to generally defer to lower courts. Judges and justices who have served on lower courts tend to adhere to this principle.