American Judges Association


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Published in Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 43:2. Copyright © 2006 National Center for State Courts. Used by permission.


My inaugural issue of Court Review contains articles examining judicial selection, retention, and independence. Public scrutiny of the courts is especially complicated. On the one hand, democratic theory supports a role for the citizenry in judging judges: Governmental transparency, accountability, and public input into governmental policy-making are important principles for strong, democratic public institutions. On the other hand, it seems counterproductive to have the third branch undergo the same kinds of inspections that officials elected to the executive and legislative branches of government undergo. Judges are supposed to operate independently and impartially, not looking over their shoulder when they rule on motions, render decisions, accept/reject cases for appellate review, and so on. Some argue the election of judges undermines public trust and confidence in courts. According to this line of analysis, it is no surprise that opinion polls reveal there is greater trust and confidence in members of the judiciary than those they elect to legislatures or state/federal executive positions. Interestingly, there is little empirical evidence examining the impact of judicial elections on public trust and confidence. The research that has been conducted reveals the issue is nuanced, not cut and dried.

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