We want judges who know the law and whose primary motive is the desire to do justice without fear or favor. We would like judges who are incorruptible, and to ensure that they are not corrupted in practice, we pay them salaries that exceed what all but the top echelon of lawyers make from the practice of law, for duties that give judges plenty of time for golfing, writing books, or watching Frozen XIV with their grandchildren. When judges enter their courtrooms, we stand up for them, we speak in their presence only when called upon, and even outside the court, their presence inspires fear and respect.
We might think that to get such judges, we would rely on the judgment of judges themselves. Most US states, however, elect judges by popular vote. And even where judges are appointed rather than elected, the final say on the appointment of judges is in the hands of politicians. In many US states, merit panels make formal recommendations to state governors, and in the US Federal System, the president and his advisors consult informally with sitting and retired judges before making the most senior appointments. Similar mixtures of merit and political selection, with the politicians having the last word, exist in every country regarded as a democracy except India and Israel. In India, politicians ignore judges (who are entirely self-appointed) when they feel they have to, and in Israel, judges in fact have final say over every supposedly political or legislative decision.
Judges are thus, in actual democracies other than India, either elected or appointed by the elected. Therefore, judges, by and large, reflect the various opinions of the voters who pick the politicians. They are, in democracies, widely respected, highly professional, and, on the whole, honest and decent. Some judges are liberal, some are conservative, and a small minority (like a small minority of the voters) are extremists, but hardly any are legal incompetents or personally corrupt.
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Author: Ruth King
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