Justice at Stake & Judicial Elections
States use different systems to select their judges: popular elections, appointments and commission/election systems (sometimes called merit selection). Each has strengths and weaknesses—but each should seek to select high-quality judges, insulate them from inappropriate political pressures and keep them accountable to the law.
Justice at Stake does not support any one system for selecting judges. Our partners, allies and board members don’t always agree on this complicated question. But we are unified in seeking solutions to the problem of special-interest pressure on our judges, because every American deserves a fair day in court.
Several reforms we support—like public financing, disclosure of campaign-trail money, and voter guides—actually strengthen and improve systems where judges are popularly elected. Where states choose to appoint judges through merit selection, we support periodic retention elections that allow voters to hold judges accountable, along with commission nominating systems that are transparent, bipartisan, and promote diversity on the bench.
The Citizens United ruling of the Supreme Court in 2010 raised the threat facing elected courts to an unprecedented level. Where there is public support, states may need to consider the appointment of judges or public financing of judicial elections, as possible ways to protect courts from campaign cash.