The judiciary branch is supposed to be completely just and impartial in its decisions, as well as always be focused on bringing and maintaining justice. Hence, judges are supposed to be highly moral, knowledgeable, impartial, objective, unbiased, and professional individuals who are full of virtue and strive to make decisions based on law and for the benefit of the people regardless of their implications and potential consequences. However, judges are still humans and their work and selection involve numerous issues that raise heated debates among the public and experts. Thus, for instance, judges are not perfect and their decisions may be influenced not only by considerations of the law but also by other personal factors such as contributions necessary for them to win elections or other factors affecting their practice. Some of these issues are discussed in the articles entitled “Symposium: Judicial Selection: Part II. Questioning Reform: The Light of Accountability: Why Partisan Elections Are the Best Method of Judicial Selection” by Kelly Shackelford and Justin Butterfield and “Symposium: Judicial Selection: Part I. Reform: Are Campaign Contributions Compromising the Independent Judiciary?” by Adam Skaggs. Overall, the two articles question impartiality of judges who are selected by means of partisan elections and try to establish whether this system of appointment is a benefit or a shortcoming of the judiciary branch in the USA.
The article by Skackelford and Butterfield (2010) provides a brief overview of three common judicial selection methods that are currently used in the USA with a view to proving that partisan election seems to be the best choice in terms of accountability irrespective of its obvious shortcomings. The three methods described in the article include popular elections, the federal system, and the Missouri Plan. Each of them has its benefits and shortcomings, yet the authors focus on accountability granted by each system as the most significant factor (Skackelford & Butterfield, 2010). In the federal system, citizens are the least involved stakeholders out of the three methods while the other two methods envision a higher degree of citizens’ involvement and judges’ accountability before the people. Under the method of popular elections, judges are selected and appointed directly by citizens in the process of election. In turn, the Missouri Plan presupposes appointment of judges by a governor out of a list of potential candidates provided by a special committee of experts (Skackelford & Butterfield, 2010). The latter method has been developed as a response to shortcomings of the popular elections method and with the purpose to “maximize the independence of the judiciary by having the judiciary beholden to neither the citizenry nor the other political branches of government” (Skackelford & Butterfield, 2010).
Skackelford and Butterfield (2010) provide a rather detailed overview of the Missouri Plan and come to the conclusion that even though no system of judicial appointment is perfect, partisan election ensures the highest level of accountability and independence among elected judges. Thus, the authors acknowledge that elected judges are not perfect and may still be biased and self-interested in their decisions, yet the research shows that they are the least likely to be governed by their political affiliations and the most likely to be accountable before the people (Skackelford & Butterfield, 2010). There is no sure way to explain the underlying causes of these findings. However, it is assumed that such judges feel personal responsibility for their decisions as they have been directly elected by citizens and have to make sure that they fulfill their promises as well as feel more independent than their colleagues appointed under some other method. Furthermore, “By refusing to hide the politics in the shadows and instead bringing the politics and attending philosophies into the light, partisan elections promote transparency and accountability; and partisan elections empirically produce the best judges” (Skackelford & Butterfield, 2010).
The above view is questioned by Skaggs (2010) in the other article under consideration as it questions impartiality and objectivity of judges elected in the process of partisan elections because of their reliance on donors. Hence, Skaggs (2010) emphasizes that judicial campaigns require extremely large amounts of money, yet the most likely campaign supporters turn out to be other lawyers, corporate law firms, and “special interest groups with ties to major industries”. Then, these donors are likely to bring or be brought to the courtroom with some case and the judge whose campaign relied on them can be biased in his/her decision. Skaggs (2010) points out that “No studies have definitely proved a causal link between campaign contributions and favorable judicial outcomes, but the belief that a correlation exists has given rise to a public perceptions that justice is for sale”. Therefore, the article advocates for launching a judicial selection reform. Skaggs (2010) suggests the following possible solutions: “replacing contested elections with appointment and retention elections”, which basically means implementing the Missouri Plan; “adopting public financing for judicial campaigns”; and “codifying robust disclosure and recusal rules”.
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Withal, the two articles present different views on partisan elections as the judicial selection method with Skaggs (2010) focusing on its shortcomings and Skackelford and Butterfield (2010) praising the method for its benefits. The articles provide opposing opinions on independence and impartiality of judges selected under the method, thereby proving topicality of the raised criminal justice issue and justifying a need to conduct further comprehensive researches on the topic. However, it seems that both articles are right to some extent as elections ensure the highest extent of accountability of judges and their independence from the political pressure. However, such judges’ decisions may be compromised because of their reliance on donations. Thus, judges face a complicated situation when they have to remain independent, yet being dependent on donors at the same time. Therefore, a reform is really needed in terms of funding for election campaigns so that judges would not depend on donors and could make sure that justice is not for sale while the judiciary is truly independent.
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