Monday, May 26, 2008

Compromise Justice: Americans are unique in electing judges, but we are also unique in obsessing about crime

In Sunday's edition of the NYTimes, law correspondent Adam Liptak examines the uniquely American practice of popularly electing judges, and the consequences that has for the fairness and neutrality of justice. Liptak profiles a recent Wisconsin election where a state Supreme Court Justice, the state's only African American justice, was defeated by an opponent who linked the Justice to a rapist who he had once defended while a lawyer (also African American); falsely claiming that the lawyer's argument had resulted in another victim being raped.

“Butler found a loophole,” the advertisement said. “Mitchell went on to molest another child. Can Wisconsin families feel safe with Louis Butler on the Supreme Court?”

Liptak also cites a study that shows that all judges, even those who are already among the most punitive, raise sentences as they approach an election.

The article raises the question of whether judges are superior in most other countries where they are chosen by a system of rigorous exams, relatively insulated from politics.

But while American justice might improve with a more rigorous selection process, the real defects highlighted by the article are more of a product of governing through crime, and the enormous salience crime policy now has for all government officials. We have had elected judges for decades, but until the war on crime these were low key and mostly routine affairs.

No comments: