July 07, 2002
Another 5-4 Supreme Court ruling

In another 5-4 Supreme Court ruling the SCOTUS has struck down a law that prevents judges from saying in campaign ads how they'd rule on a particular issue. A local former judge disagrees with this ruling:

Most people who can count to three know the separation of powers is why we have three branches of government, instead of two. The judiciary is supposed to declare the law, no matter how unpopular. Unlike the executive and the legislative departments, the judiciary is not supposed to declare public opinion. If people don't like a judicial decision, they can amend a constitution or a statute or they can elect a new judge. But, until now, they could not expect candidates for judge to say in advance how they would vote on particular cases.

Is that change good or bad? Some say it's good. They say the public can't cast a meaningful vote for a judge without knowing how he or she will rule. Without that information, there's nothing to vote for or against. Others say it's bad. How, they ask, can you get a fair trial from a judge who has declared how he'll rule before he has heard the case? A judge who has publicly pledged to vote one way cannot be, or be perceived to be, the neutral magistrate the law requires. If the judiciary is not neutral, it is worse than useless. It's fraudulent.

He also points out that as was the case here a few years ago, a judicial candidate may perhaps win election after promising to make a popular ruling that violates the law. The example cited was a candidate who said he'd never consider probation for DUI offenders, despite a state law that mandates he do so. That guy lost, but are you so sure that the next one will?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 07, 2002 to Legal matters