Judges Should be Elected Not Selected
After a long and happy abstinence I had occasion this morning to read a John Brummett column advocating that our State Supreme Court Justices be selected, not elected. This is an absolutely terrible idea, as are so many of those which emanate from the mind and keyboard of Mr. Brummett. But unfortunately, the idea is not his alone. He raised the subject because the state bar association is about to suggest that our legislature refer an amendment to the voters to end elections for our State Supreme Court Justices. Instead, the Governor would "choose" between one of three candidates offered up by a panel of lawyers. Unfortunately the same legislature that gave us last cycle's phony "ethics reform" bill might send this one up too.
Do we have problems with our judiciary in this state? Yes. Special interests with money have disproportionate influence with the Judicial branch, just as they do with the other two branches. But this "cure" will be worse than the disease. We the People would have less responsibility for our own government as this would be passed off to a small group of unaccountable experts. It is a solution for slaves, and an "answer" only for the slothful who groan at the burden of living as a free person responsible for their own governance.
He writes that they should ask people to "be smart enough to accept the premise that they aren't informed enough to vote for state Supreme Court justices." I do accept that premise. What I don't accept is that this idiotic proposal is the cure to that problem. The replacement process suggested by Brummett and these lawyers is very similar to, but even less accountable to the people than, that process which has given us our present federal Supreme Court. That is, the same court which does not even understand what marriage is, but is so confident enough in their ignorance that they impose their trendy prejudices on the rest of us at the point of a federal bayonet. If you want judges to be more arrogant and over-reaching than they presently are, then support the plan which Brummett suggests.
As I said at the first, I agree with his premise. We don't have the information necessary to make good choices about our state supreme court justice candidates. But the solution to this problem is not to take the decision out of the hands of those of us who must live under their rulings. The solution is to remove the very deliberate obstacles which have been erected to prevent us from obtaining this necessary information. When the government calls something "ethics" in Arkansas, you better look out. In this case the "Arkansas Code for Judicial Ethics" does not allow a candidate for the state supreme court to talk about anything related to how they might have ruled on any case, past, present, or future. About all they can do is give you their credentials and say they will try to be fair. Anything else is a violation of the "Code of Ethics" which can get them fined and disbarred.
It's no wonder we "aren't informed enough to vote for state Supreme Court justices". The candidates are banned by law from informing us! That is what needs to change, not the method by which they are put in office. Brummett himself endorsed Courtney Henry based on who her family was- which family she divorced out of the moment she was elected, because under our system we have nothing else to go on. I actually agree with Brummett on the root problem. Regarding solutions, we are utterly opposed.
I understand why a judge cannot talk about how they might rule on a future case, but there is no reason why they can't write an opinion on the legal reasoning from a ruling from the past. I have one savvy friend who asks candidates about their "world view" as a substitute for asking their opinions on past cases, but we should know what they thought of the legal reasoning in past cases. Someone might argue that this would prejudice them in future cases if the same case from the past was a part of the proceedings. I find such arguments disingenuous. These people have viewpoints whether they tell us in advance or not. As the people who will have to live under their rulings, I demand to know what those viewpoints are before we elevate them to high office. My solution is to repeal the section in the constitution on "Judicial Ethics" so that candidates for Judge can talk about their view of the legal reasoning in past cases.
The other thing which must be done is to get an honest and thoughtful media in the state of Arkansas. We are mis-informed about judges just as we are mis-informed about all candidates for all offices in this state by an establishment media which insists on giving us voices like John Brummett instead of letting us hear from people who actually understand things. Fortunately, bloggers are becoming the real media in this state and the old media is starting to fade. That process must continue or we will never have good government in this state. We can't improve things by listening to the same media which has kept us backwards for so long- and in parts of the state which are doing well, we mostly don't!