Jefferson’s speech to the Lege onÂ Wednesday was widely reported. But the week brought other news that underscored the Chief’s plea to change Texas to aÂ 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 electionÂ — echoing John Grisham’s recent best-seller, The Appeal — was mainly financed by a coal executive whose company was a litigant in the case.Â
ChiefÂ Justice Jefferson was forthright about the low opinionÂ citizens hold about their state judges:
Â 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.Â ItÂ 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.Â As this editorial fromÂ the San Angelo StandardÂ TimesÂ argues, it doesn’t go far enough but it’s a good start.