There are good and bad aspects to elections.
Among the bad aspects: the fact that many voters are terribly ill-informed — but still plenty willing to lodge a vote based on the tiny, tiny bit of information they have managed to gather. This is evidenced by the recent unseating of an experienced judge by a bagel lady, as we have discussed on this blog previously (here and here). Witness:
Frank Daly said a concurrence of slates endorsing Lynn Diane Olson for a Superior Court judgeship in Los Angeles County persuaded him to vote for her.
Daly, a Woodland Hills Republican, said he came to regret the decision after learning that his candidate, who unseated a respected sitting judge, was an owner of a bagel shop and four other businesses who had not focused on the law in 14 years.
“I voted for this lady solely on these pieces sent to me,” Daly said. “I don’t really trust a lot of those things anyway, but I didn’t have any other avenue to base my decision on.”
How’s about not voting, Mr. Daly? Did you ever consider that, since you didn’t really have anything valid to base your vote on, perhaps you should leave the decision up to those who do?
But when L.A. Times editors say that the unfair result is “leading some to question whether the system to select judges needs overhauling,” they are forgetting the good aspects of elections — chief among them being accountability.
As commenter Pat Patterson recently noted, the very same L.A. Times that decried the election of the bagel lady also ran a recent series on corrupt Nevada judges who are not subject to election, and thus not accountable to the public. Witness:
One Nevada judge was nearly indicted on blackmail charges. Another ruled repeatedly for a casino corporation in which he held more than 10,000 shares. Still another overruled state authorities and decided in favor of a gambling boss who was notorious as a mob frontman, and whose casino did the judge a $2,800 favor.
Yet the Nevada Supreme Court has conferred upon these judges a special distinction that exempts them from some of the common rules of judicial practice and reduces their accountability. They are among 17 state judges whom the high court has commissioned as senior judges.
Unlike regular judges, senior judges are not answerable to the voters, but serve at the pleasure of the high court, and that can mean for life.
In other words, accountability can be a good thing, even for judges.
Do you like it when federal judges overturn death sentences for transparently ideological reasons? When they mess with the timing of state elections for political reasons? When they seize control of jail facilities and decry the lack of television sets?
I could go on and on.
Or, I could make this entire argument in two simple words: Rose Bird.
So, to sum up: it’s a damn shame judges are subject to elections. Also: thank God we can subject judges to elections. As Pat Patterson explains it:
So in essence the problem, according the LAT, is too much democracy in the South Bay and not enough in Las Vegas.
That actually makes sense when you look at it from the editors’ selfish perspective, of course. Democracy is fine for other jurisdictions. But when you are a powerful newspaper editor, the rabble of democracy cuts into your elite power to shape opinion. This is why the editors hate state propositions, for example. The elite should control everything, they think.
Sorry, Times editors. It’s called democracy. It’s messy. It’s run by idiots. It produces unfair results.
As the old saying goes, it’s the worst system out there — except for all the others.