"When a judge has made his or her personal views known, citizens are right to question whether they will receive a fair and impartial hearing."
—"Guidelines for Judicial Candidates," 2008 memo by Midwest Democracy Network and Justice at Stake Campaign
In this era of rough-and-tumble judicial elections, there’s a new threat to public confidence in fair and impartial courts. When a judicial candidate makes a pledge on the campaign trail, it can create an appearance he has decided the outcome of a case before donning a black robe or hearing any evidence.
This concern has grown since a 2002 Supreme Court decision, Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, tore away at the old restrictions about what candidates can say in their bid for election. Since White, interest groups have used bullying questionnaires to pressure candidates to take stands on hot-button issues—before they are elected.
There are ways to counter these trends, follow best ethical practices and preserve confidence in the integrity of courts. Campaigns can be used to educate the public about how our courts work, and where they fit into the Constitution’s system of checks and balances. Candidates can avoid expressing views on issues they might rule on, explaining that it could undermine the appearance of impartial justice.
Candidates’ memo issued in 2008 by Midwest Democracy Network and Justice at Stake Campaign