Americans are generally upset about the growing amount of money raised to pay for campaigns. The campaigns that deserve the greatest concern, however, are those in states that elect judges. It is outrageous that would-be judges must go hat-in-hand to seek contributions from individuals, big law firms or corporations that may have cases before the courts.
One organization that has fought the battle against electing judges is the American Judicature Society, which celebrated its 100th birthday last year. Alas, the organization announced this week that it is disbanding. This is sad news for Drake University, where the organization was based for a decade until last year. It is even worse news for those who support efforts to reform the judicial selection process.
The Judicature Society was founded in 1913 during the Progressive Era when the American legal and court system was in need of major reforms. Much has been done over the past century to implement those reforms, thanks in part to the American Judicature Society. Yet, 28 states still elect trial judges and 21 states elect judges to their highest appellate courts. Many of those candidates run on partisan ballots.
More than $150 million was spent on judicial campaigns in the last three election cycles, according to the advocacy group Justice at Stake. The amount of money judicial candidates must raise continues to escalate, in part as the political partisanship of the nation exhibited in Washington has spilled over into the courts.
This system is a travesty to the perception, or the reality, of fair justice in this country. Yet, since the movement backed by the American Judicature Society to get states to move toward the merit system was begun, few have fully implemented it.
Among those states that have, Iowa is a shining example. Alas, the demise of the Judicature Society means the reform movement will lose a longtime champion.