Following is a guest post from the capable and talented Bryce Buchmann, of “Nobody Takes Me Cereal” fame.
As Americans, we are taught from a young age that the best form of government is one that we the people elect. Citizens participate in this process by voting for president and other offices. But one branch of government – the judicial branch – often escapes the direct application of democracy through judicial appointments instead of electing judges. The benefits of having presidents and governors appoint judges for life rather than putting their seats up for election have been debated for centuries and judicial systems still vary from state to state. These debates have come from the fact that there are many good and bad consequences of having appointed judges. Although electing judges makes intuitive sense in a democracy, the appointment method of judge selection most fairly accomplishes the goal of the judicial branch – to read and interpret the law.
Given that direct democracy allows citizens the most control over their government, to elect our judges may seem like the best method of selection. Indeed, judges who depend on re-election to keep their jobs are often friendlier and appear more productive. Elected judges must keep people happy and they will therefore often do what the majority of people in their jurisdiction would think is best. Unfortunately, sometimes being a good judge means making decisions that don’t make people happy. Clearly, most judges (whether they be elected or not) are not afraid to make unpopular decisions in court as long as they are in keeping with the law. But the application of direct democracy to the court system may lead to some level of majority rule in the courts. While majority rule is a good thing in Congress and the White House, judicial rulings should be based on objective interpretation of the law and therefore must not be influenced by public opinion.
Another reason to support the appointment of judges is that presidents and governors make judicial selections based on the backgrounds and records of candidates. While the results of an election can be influenced by campaign finance and colorful advertisements, an appointment is the result of careful deliberation and research by the president or governor. Sometimes judges are elected based purely on their party affiliation – a mistake which encourages political advocacy from the bench instead of ensuring that justice be served in our courts. When a judge is appointed, the person in charge of that appointment will look at their entire record as a judge rather than just check the box next to the name that has an (R) or a (D) after it. Judges should be selected with the intention of being objective and non-partisan, not elected to implement a particular party’s platform.
The best way to guarantee unbiased and fair rulings in our courts is by establishing appointment as the standard method of judicial selection. Judicial appointment allows judges to make decisions they believe to be fair, regardless of whether voters agree with them. We can trust our highest elected officials to appoint only the most qualified candidates to these positions. Therefore, we should expect appointed judges to make rulings based on their interpretations of the law, and can assume that they will usually make the best decision. The American system of government is great because of its dependence on the consent of the governed, but our courts do not provide justice if they are controlled by public opinion during election season.