University of Denver

America’s Judicial Selection Wars

ABA Human Rights Journal, Vol. 36, No. 1
Founding Executive Director

In 2008, fifteen states held contested elections for twenty-six supreme court seats. And, according to national watchdog groups the Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake, nearly $20 million was spent on television advertising, an increase of 24 percent over the 2006 election.

Is this a problem? After all, raising vast sums of money and spending them on campaign advertising is commonplace in races for seats in the executive and legislative branches. We are a nation that believes in the right to vote and the accountability that goes with it. Why not apply these same standards to the judiciary?

Politicians are supposed to be aligned with an ideology; they choose a party and accept its platform. In contrast, judges must decide each case on its merits, not on the basis of political ideology or a campaign contribution. Judges must be impartial to be effective. There are two common methods for selecting judges: elections and merit selection. We have only to look at this past election season to understand how these methods support or undermine the ideal of an impartial American judiciary.