Make Tennessee State Judges Appointed Instead of Elected
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The judiciary serves an integral role in protecting the sanctity of American Democracy. Given that the judiciary has the power to settle disputes and make law through case law, it is absolutely essential that the most qualified individuals are the ones to fill its seats. It is also incredibly important to ensure that judges are able to make decisions freely; they must not have a fear of public retaliation for making legally-sound decisions that the general public may not agree with. That is why it is necessary to ensure that all of Tennessee's state judges are appointed for life, not elected in eight-year term partisan elections. Currently, the Tennessee’s Criminal Appeals Courts, Criminal Courts, and Circuit Courts all elect their judges through partisan elections for eight-year terms. This system is flawed and must be changed.
Research has shown that appointed judges are better able to fulfill their duties. A Princeton University study analyzed 6,000 state level court rulings and determined that appointed judges “bring a higher quality of information to the decision-making process” (Hotchkiss 2013).
In addition, partisan elections for members of the judiciary are dangerous to the democratic system. Many legal scholars believe that the judiciary should remain independent of partisan politics (Zeder 2012). The judicial branch is the only branch that enters office without an agenda. Having partisan elections for judges assigns a de facto agenda to each judicial candidate, as each candidate represents their party’s platform. Margaret Marshall, a retired Massachusetts Supreme Court Judge and Harvard Law School lecturer, expressed her disdain toward judicial candidates making promises during the campaign season (Zeder 2012). She stated that campaign platforms prevent judges from being able to give every citizen equal protection under the Constitution (Zeder 2012). Elected judges look to forward their agendas through decisions, giving them motivation to make decisions that result in certain outcomes that align with their agendas. In my opinion, the only basis of a judicial decision should be written law. Judges must try and keep their personal beliefs as far away from decisions as possible. By running on a platform, a judicial candidate is literally swearing to make decisions based on personal beliefs.
Partisan elections also allow big money to influence decisions. Implicitly or explicitly, judges may have biases towards parties that donate (or do not donate) to their campaigns. This may affect the impartiality that a judge is required to bring to the bench in hearing cases. Caperton v. Massey is a case commonly cited by opponents of judicial elections. The case garnered much attention when citizens found out that a judge who had received large campaign donations from one of the parties involved in the case failed to recuse himself from the case (Bonneau 2011). Occurrences of this kind undermine the impartiality that are fundamental to the judicial system. Campaign elections create conflicts of interest. Such gaffes delegitimize the judiciary. Citizens cannot lose faith in the institution that is supposed to uphold an equal standard of fairness for all.
For this variety of reasons, it is absolutely necessary to change the method of judicial selection in the state of Tennessee.
Bannon, A. (2016, June 6). Rethinking Judicial Selection in State Courts | Brennan Center for Justice.
Bonneau, C. W. (2011, May 26). Why we should keep judicial elections - The Washington Post.
Choi, Stephen J. and Gulati, G. Mitu and Posner, Eric A., Professionals or Politicians: The Uncertain Empirical Case for an Elected Rather Than Appointed Judiciary (August 2007). U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 357; 2nd Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper.
FEC Combined Federal/State Disclosure & Election Directory: TENNESSEE. (n.d.).
Hotchkiss, M. (2013, February 22). Researchers find appointed justices outperform elected counterparts.
Judicial selection in Tennessee - Ballotpedia. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2017, from https://ballotpedia.org/Judicial_selection_in_Tennessee
Odland, S. (2016, June 16). Why judges should be appointed, not elected commentary.
Zeder, J. (2012, July 1). Elected vs. Appointed? - Harvard Law Today.
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