We, along with other commentators, have worried about rising threats to judicial independence at both the state and the federal level. Last week, Fact Check -- an organization that monitors political advertising -- reported on one of the most serious threats to the independence of elected state judges: increasingly expensive political campaigns.
Many state judges are elected, and in the recent election cycle the focus on fundraising made it difficult to distinguish judges’ campaigns from those of politicians running for Congress. Races in Georgia, Kentucky and Alabama were among the worst. Fact Check observed that “more than $16 million was spent on judicial campaign ads in 22 Supreme Court races in 10 states…. Election makes them directly accountable to the citizens they serve, but perhaps also to the well-heeled special interests who help fund their campaigns and later turn up in their courtrooms.”
We all depend on judges to protect our rights and enforce the law in a neutral, unbiased way. But judges -- especially those who face reelection campaigns -- are under continual pressure to decide cases in a way that is popular. This pressure is compounded when these judges depend on campaign financing from parties who may have an interest in the outcome of cases being heard in their courtrooms. It's bad enough that moneyed interests have too much sway in the legislative branches of government -- let's try to keep their hands off state judiciaries.