Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Problem with Electing Judges

The case of Rahm Emmanuel's campaign to become the next Mayor of Chicago illustrates the more classic objection to electing judges. An appeals court ruled that because Emmanuel had been serving the President in the District of Columbia for the previous year, he had forfeited his residency status and was thus ineligible to run for mayor. The Illinois Supreme Court overturned that decision today, declaring that Emmanuel would remain on the ballot for the February election.

Illinois elects their judges, so it is perhaps no surprise to find this paragraph at the top of the New York Times story on the case:
When Thomas L. Kilbride, the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, studied the legal briefs in the case over Rahm Emanuel’s eligibility to run for mayor, the name of one lawyer involved in the residency dispute should have been familiar to Mr. Kilbride: Michael J. Kasper.

Mr. Kasper, the election-law specialist for Mr. Emanuel and for the state Democratic Party, offered his free expertise to Mr. Kilbride’s successful Democratic campaign last year to remain on the state’s high court, Mr. Kilbride’s campaign manager said.
Because judges must retain the services of campaign operatives, lawyers, and political partisans to become elected, the impartiality of the state bench is corruptible. I personally think that the Emmanuel residency claim was finally settled correctly, but that doesn't detract from the deep unease that I feel when an elected judge makes that decision, even in consultation with 6 others.

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