Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson: End Judicial Elections

Jefferson’s speech to the Lege on Wednesday was widely reported. But the week brought other news that underscored the Chief’s plea to change Texas to a merit-based appointment system. First, there was the $2.6 million bribery scheme by two judges in Pennsylvania, one of the other seven states that still elects judges. Then today there is the NYTimes report that the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing a major case in West Virginia, decided by a new chief justice whose election — echoing John Grisham’s recent best-seller, The Appeal — was mainly financed by a coal executive whose company was a litigant in the case. 

Chief Justice Jefferson was forthright about the low opinion citizens hold about their state judges:

 I share [former Supreme Court] Justice O’Connor’s concern about the corrosive influence of money in judicial elections. Polls asking about this perception find that more than 80% of those questioned believe contributions influence a judge’s decision. That’s an alarming figure — four out of five.

Alarming? More than that. It demonstrates how too much democracy can undermine the very norms that make democracy possible. The rule of law upheld by an unbiased judiciary is the sine qua non of a free society. State Senator Robert Duncan (R., Lubbock) has introduced a bill to eliminate elections of appellate judges. As this editorial from the San Angelo Standard Times argues, it doesn’t go far enough but it’s a good start.


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8 responses to “Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson: End Judicial Elections”

  1. Obama's Seat says:

    About time.

  2. Arp says:

    I’m all for it, but “merit-based appointment system” is a phrase to chill the bones.

  3. Peterk says:

    How about this idea. no political affliation allowed. All judges are listed on the ballot and the voter picks x number of candidates. if there are 10 positions up for election, and twenty candidates then list them all alphabetically

    No campaigning allowed. the newspapers to publish a short bio of each candidate. if they are current sitting judge then the bio will include how many cases they handled and how many were overturned on appeal

  4. ERG says:

    Already voters know very little about the candidates aside from their political affiliation. Non-partisan elections would require voters to act on even less information. An appointment system is truly frightening. Perry’s appointments to other quasi-judicial boards have been frightful — just look at the disasterous medical board. There is still the problem of money and influence. The system is not great, but the alternatives may be worse.

  5. sam says:

    Preventing a candidate for office from campaigning is a restriction of their freedom of speech. Trying to restrict money is equally hairy. I think most merit based proposals have an appointing body and a separate confirming body. I don’t think any one is proposing (I hope) that the Governor be able to make these appointments directly.

  6. louis says:

    I think Utah has a commission that selects a set of candidates from which the governor makes a selection, which then must be ratified by the legislature. Then the voters get to vote to retain at regular intervals…

  7. bill h says:

    It doesn’t take much imagination to think about the effect of a system that requires judges to raise money for partisan elections. Who gives money to judges? In most cases it is the lawyers that appear in their court. This is not always corrupting. There are very good men and women who do not permit themselves to be influenced by that. But, they shouldn’t be in that position of having to raise money from the very people appearing in their court.

    Party is virtually no indicia of anything about the judges, certainly not at the local level. This is why so many switched parties. There are some excellent Demoncrats on the bench now. Some of them beat excellent Republicans, because of Party. In the 80’s it was the opposite.

    We need a new system

  8. bill h says:

    “Demoncrats” was a typo, sorry.