Should We Be Electing Judges?
Almost everyone reading this column - Republican, Democrat, independent or anarchist - is ready to make an informed decision on almost every race on this year's ballot. There is certainly no problem picking a president or governor. We have listened to their ads, and we will be digesting their debates. Nor will we have a problem picking a county commissioner.
But what about the judges? How do we know which nonpartisan judge is conservative or liberal? The stakes are high. And most of us go into the polling booth without a clue.
I am often concerned for judges, who must run for election in this type of an atmosphere.
I recently listened to our local judges give campaign speeches. Each promised to be "fair." Then I realized that they can ethically promise no more. Unlike candidates for president or "dog catcher," they cannot assure us of a "chicken in every pot" or a get-out-of-jail-free card. They can only serve our county with integrity and hope someone notices.
And, what about our State Courts of Appeal and Supreme Court? To assure that voters remember him, one judge, Paul Newby, campaigns around the state with a slogan made up by his child. In almost every place he speaks, Justice Newby quotes his little son saying, "Scooby Dooby - vote for Newby!"
I feel bad for Justice Newby. He is a scholar who recites the preamble to the North Carolina Constitution from memory. It is not right that he should have to cite a cartoon dog just to hope that he is remembered on Election Day. Even his opponent, Sam Ervin IV, should be known for more than the famous name he shares with his grandfather.
Other judges find themselves in the same predicament. Will the voters know the political difference between Marty McGee and Linda McGee? Each is unrelated to the other by blood or politics. Each is running for a separate seat. But each is a polar opposite when it comes to judicial philosophy.
It used to be that judges were identified by their political party. Certainly, politicizing the judiciary was not the best way to elect a judge. But at least it gave a voter some hint as to the personal philosophy of a candidate. Now, when it comes to selecting judges, voters are denied even a subtle suggestion into the heart of a judge on whose shoulder may be placed issues of life and death, as well as marriage and divorce.
Recently, one judicial candidate counted among supporters an "independent" political action committee. This campaign apparently is the first in North Carolina to use Citizens United "gray money" to target a local judicial race.
The PAC hired a public relations firm in Raleigh to disseminate the most vile, personal attacks one could imagine. This firm was used to dishonor a jurist so well-respected by his senior peers that he never had a case reversed on appeal.
How can we receive justice in our courts when judges are required to compete for name recognition in a circus of secret money, and before an electorate whose attention is elsewhere on the political field of battle?
It is clear that judges ought not be elected in a crowded presidential year, if they are elected at all. My preference is that judges not be initially elected, but nominated by our governor and confirmed with the "advice and consent" of our state Senate.
Afterward, they ought to face a confirmation vote by the people at the end of each term, merely deciding whether to give the judge another term or to direct the governor to nominate another judge.
An independent judiciary is very important to us. We want professional judges who will not only protect us from the evil that surrounds us, but also be smart enough to recognize when the government targets a motorist given an unfair ticket or an innocent young adult wrongly accused of a crime.
For now, voters must make that choice. Therefore, we must learn about our judges and make informed choices on the back side of our ballot as well as the front.
Robert M. Levy is chairman of the Moore County Republican Party. Contact him at Law52@prodigy.net.
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