NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Demeaning Judicial Election Campaigns Sparking Reforms

June 15, 2001

State political campaigns to elect judges have, in some races, deteriorated into negative ads and other questionable practices in recent elections, which haven't helped the image of judges.

In more than a dozen states, momentum is reportedly growing to rein in aggressive politicking by judicial candidates -- spurred on by last year's campaigns, which are said to have been fiercer and more expensive than ever.

The initiatives vary widely.

  • Pennsylvania and Michigan are studying proposals to replace elective systems for top state judges with appointive ones.
  • In Wisconsin and North Carolina, consideration is being given to full campaign financing for some appeals court candidates in an effort to remove judges from fund-raising.
  • In other states there are new efforts to provide voters with more information about judicial races, to monitor interest group advertising against judicial candidates -- or even create "fair campaign" panels to try to control overstatements or outright lies by candidates for judgeships.
  • In 39 states, at least some judges face elections to get or keep their offices, according to the American Bar Association.

Critics of this new trend argue that it is an important democratic right for citizens to be able to elect judges. Political observers report that the reforms being considered face tough uphill battles.

Source: William Glaberson, "States Take Steps to Rein in Excesses of Judicial Politicking," New York Times, June 15, 2001.


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