Electing judges

So, as I'm sure I've mentioned, I'm teaching a class on Criminal Justice policy this semester.  Spent yesterday's class discussing an absolutely terrific book, Courtroom 302 by Steve Bogira.  While telling the story of America's justice system from the perspective a single courtroom, Bogira seems to hit on every major issue and failing in our current system.  And in a style that is as readable and compelling as a fast-paced novel.  Great stuff.  I was very pleased to see that most all my students really got a lot out of the book, too.  One interesting thing we could all agree upon is that electing judges is simply a bad idea.  Any way you slice it, it distorts justice.  Appointing justices surely has its flaws, but it is a helluva lot better.  That said, how timely to come across this post from Matt Yglesias yesterday.  Yglesias summarizes some recent research on electing judges:


Matias Iaryczower, Garrett Lewis and Matthew Shum from the CalTech
Division of Humanities and Social Sciences offer some useful perspective
in this paper (PDF):

In this paper, we address empirically the trade-offs
involved in choosing between bureaucrats and politicians. In order to do
this, we need to map institutions of selection and retention of public
officials to the type of public officials they induce. We do this by
specifying a collective decision-making model, and exploiting its
equilibrium information to obtain estimates of the unobservable types.
We focus on criminal decisions across US states’ Supreme Courts. We
find that justices that are shielded from voters’ influence on average
(i) have better information, (ii) are more likely to change their
preconceived opinions about a case, and (iii) are more effective (make
less mistakes) than their elected counterparts
. We evaluate how
performance would change if the courts replaced majority rule with
unanimity rule.

Here in NC, we've at least made the step of going to non-partisan judicial elections.  Still, far from perfect, but one of my students researching his term papers says that other studies show that judges elected in non-partisan elections are clearly better than those elected in partisan elections.  Alas, most states insist on continuing to elect their judges and I don't think there's much prospect for change on the horizon.  Of course, pretty much no other countries elect their judges and they think we are crazy (rightly) for doing so.

How a bill doesn’t become a law

Joe Conason has a nice column outlining how the Republican strategy on financial reform is almost identical to the strategy on health care reform.  And both are based on lying and a complete lack of personal integrity on the part of Senators.  Of course, the Democrats fault in this is behaving like Charlie Brown.  Yes, Charlie Brown, Lucy is going to pull the ball away again. Conason:

How many times will the Democrats fall prey to the same Republican
strategy? There is nothing subtle about the Republican approach to
frustrating reform, whether in healthcare, banking regulation or climate
change.  Scarcely anything could be more obvious, indeed, than Mitch
McConnell’s cynical obstruction of the financial reform bill, announced
over the weekend, with an
incoherent Scott Brown
 (and the rest of the Senate Republicans)
lining up in formation against "taxpayer bailouts" that literally do not
exist in the pending bill. 

The underlying agenda on the Republican side, from the top down, is
to frustrate and humiliate the president and the Democratic majority —
and to ensure that no legislation passes. They typically begin with a
memo from Frank Luntz, outlining rhetorical tricks that will be used to
mislead and anger voters, while obscuring the true content of any
proposal that Democrats might consider.

At the same time, Republicans on the relevant committees simulate
bargaining over matters of substance with their Democratic counterparts,
which is what the civics books tell us they are supposed to do, of
course. But when a bill emerges and debate is scheduled to begin,
McConnell stalls the process by threatening a filibuster, due to
allegedly unacceptable features of the legislation or an alleged refusal
by the Democrats to consult with Republicans. His false claims are
aimed at a single objective: to justify the filibuster threat.

 On financial reform, check, check, and check.  They've successfully done all these things.  If people start paying attention, this is a winning issue for Democrats (um, the people vs. Wall Street, that's easy), so we'll see how they play it.   

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