Ginsburg backs end to judicial elections

[JURIST] US Supreme Court [official website] Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg [Oyez profile] endorsed a ban on the election of judges at the state and local level on Thursday while speaking at a conference for the National Association of Women Judges [official website]. Ginsburg said she supported her former colleague, retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor [JURIST news archive], in her campaign [JURIST report] to urge state legislatures to move towards merit-based judicial appointments instead of direct judicial elections. Both women take issue with the fundraising aspect of judicial elections and the campaign promises that are made in order to secure funds. According to the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) [advocacy website] there are 33 states that select judges through direct elections. Ginsburg noted in her speech that she dissented from a 2002 decision which stated that no limits could be put on the issues and topics discussed by judicial candidates. She claims that the First Amendment allows "sensible limits" to be put on candidates to ensure the impartiality the distinguishes a judicial office from a political office.

The O'Connor Judicial Selection Initiative (OJSI) [advocacy website] came in response to a June 2009 decision [JURIST report] by the US Supreme Court that West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals [official website] Justice Brent Benjamin [official profile] violated the due process [Cornell LII backgrounder] rights of a civil plaintiff when he did not recuse himself from a case where the defendant was one of his major campaign contributors. The OJSI is urging legislatures to adopt a system similar to one O'Connor helped to introduce in Arizona, where a state commission made up mostly of non-lawyers pick judges, governors appoint judges selected by the commissions, and voters decide in future elections whether the judges stay in office. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery [official profile] has called the appointment system elitist and says [CNN report] that elections make him accountable to the citizens of Pennsylvania, rather than the governor or a commission.



 

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