Two recent events have caused me to ponder the issue of judicial elections.
First, Chief Justice Saufley justifiably sailed through her legislative review for re-upping for another seven years. I believe Justice Levy is also up this year for renewal and should receive an equally uneventful and appropriate stamp of approval. The only judges elected in Maine are probate judges; the Governor appoints all the others; and as these recent re-ups show, the system has produced some mighty fine judges without a lot of political flap.
Second, the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, of which I am a member, recently filed an amicus brief in the pending Supreme Court case about whether the West Virginia Supreme Court Justice who received enormous amounts of money from a mining interest in his election campaigns should have recused himself in a case involved that interest. The brief supports the yes he should have recused position. It's a short brief with a snappy summary of the role of appellate judges:
I come from Illinois, land of elected judges, and while heaven knows there are problems with gubernatorial appointments (does the name Blagojevich ring a bell?), the election system had even larger pitfalls. I remember in my youth people on the ballot changing their names to sound more Irish to get elected (hmm – I guess I would have been ok). The huge amounts of money it takes to run campaigns these days only makes the problems with the electoral route more acute.
Except for the tabloid interest value of watching the shenanigans, the more temperate Maine way of picking judges has its distinct advantages.