What are the pros and cons of electing judges?
As judges play a significant part in interpreting laws, it seems as if it would make sense to elect them. Even more importantly, judges have a fair amount of latitude in sentencing and making other decisions that affect the lives of people brought before them. The decisions judges make can also affect the daily lives of a community. All of this suggests that electing judges might be part of the democratic principle that citizens should have ultimate control over how their society is run.
On the other hand, the judiciary is part of a system of checks and balances, designed to put technocrats in place to serve as a brake to populism. One duty of judges is to administer the law impartially and thus protect the rights of minorities. Another issue is that judges are expected to be experts and thus most people are not qualified to evaluate their expertise. Thus, it makes sense to have panels of experts, such as lawyers and judges, select new judges.
Having elected officials who are not experts appoint judges seems the worst of both worlds.
A person is either appointed to a judgeship or is elected by the people. There are arguments for and against each method. Many people agree that justice must be impartial and the selection of judges should not be based on politics, but on a person’s ability as a jurist. This would argue for a person being appointed. Some argue that the voting public isn’t equipped to determine the most qualified candidate. Also, candidates to elected judgeships can be heavily influenced by special interest groups.
On the other hand, the judicial decisions, especially appellate decisions, become law and can have a great impact on the public. This argues that the public should have the final say in selecting the judges that make these decisions. Some argue that the political beliefs of the person or persons making the selection will be reflected in the decisions that the appointed judge makes, so judges should be elected by the people.
Many states have judges (up to the State Supreme Court) who are elected by the voters. There are pros and cons associated with this way of selecting judges.
The main pro is that the judges are then answerable to the people. This is, you can argue, more democratic than having judges be appointed. If a judge makes too many decisions that are out of line with what the people believe, he or she can be removed.
However, this has its cons too. Judges are supposed to rule based on the law, not on what is popular. If judges have to worry about being reelected, they are likely to take positions that they think are popular rather than sticking with what the law actually says.
The biggest problem I see with the election of judges is that most people have no idea who the judge is or what his record on the bench might be. They go to the polls and see a name or two to vote for for judge and just check which ever one might appeal to them at the time.