Leave commenting on PA Politics to me, Sandra Day O’Connor

Sandra Day O’Connor disses Russ Diamond in today’s Wall Street Journal, along with calling for appointing judges and government-run campaigns:

These three reforms [I’ll discuss below] will help, but will not solve the problem of direct interest-group attacks on judicial candidates. Pennsylvania’s experience demonstrates this problem. In addition to the contested Supreme Court seats, 67 state judges were up for retention election in Pennsylvania this year. Retention elections are historically very low profile, but they became contentious in 2007 when a small but organized grass-roots campaign sought to oust all but one of the judges whose names were before the voters because the judges had accepted a legislatively enacted pay raise rather than returning the money to the state treasury. They attacked the judges as “pigs in robes,” conjuring images of greedy out-of-control politicians.

Fortunately, Pennsylvania voters were not swayed by the spurious attack, but that doesn’t mean that the attacks weren’t harmful, as they were essentially all anyone heard about Pennsylvania’s 2007 retention elections. One of the dangers of low media coverage and high interest-group spending is that voters hear only from activists who have targeted a particular judicial race. The Pennsylvania retention races show how easily the issues in judicial elections can be controlled by special interests.

Special interest appeals to emotion and policy preferences tempt voters to join efforts to control the decisions of judges. Voters are less likely to devote themselves to the core value of judicial independence, because when judges apply the law fairly and impartially they cannot guarantee the outcome any particular voter might want. But fair and impartial judging is an essential part of our government, and must be preserved.

Is she calling PA Clean Sweep a “special interest”? Or the groups that called for retaining all judges (which she seems to call for)?

As I pointed out before, and Tim Potts echoed – voters were more informed this year, the media offered more coverage, and there was discussion over what “judicial independence” meant (thanks, in part, to the activism of Clean Sweep).

In the long term, a commitment to judicial independence will only come from robust civics education, starting at a very young age. Today, only a little more than one-third of Americans can name the three branches of government — much less explain the balance of power among them. If we lose appreciation for our government’s structure and the role of the judiciary within it, it is only a matter of time before the judicial branch becomes just another political arm of the government.

Are you kidding me? I won’t even address the “voters are too stupid to elect judges” argument, but I have to call her ignoring

  1. The call for Pennsylvania judges to be thrown out was because of their (specifically Chief Justice Cappy) collusion with the other branches – not for practicing judicial independence.
  2. This lack of judicial independence was due to a lack of voter attention – not to too much campaigning by judges.
  3. Appointing judges is not apolitical: see filibusters, Bork, et. al.

So what does Sandra Day propose? Three things:

1) Allow the governor to appoint judges (after “merit” recommendations from experts), then have retention elections. Really?

  • Even though she denounces the “political” retention elections?
  • Even though some observers think than even a temporary appointment by a corrupt/partisan governor and confirmation by corrupt/partisan senate would be the death of reform and judicial independence?
  • And, as one commenter asks, “Who are the experts”? Hopefully not Sandra Day O’Connor.

2) The state should create a Ministry of Truth “campaign-conduct committee” that will be responsible for propaganda “educating voters” and “flag inappropriate campaign conduct and provide information to help voters interpret charges made in campaign advertising sound bites”.

3) The state government should provide “voter education pamphlets to provide accurate and unbiased information about the qualifications of a judicial candidate.”

WOW! My references to 1984 probably weren’t even needed. Dare I compare Sandra Day’s prescription to Soviet-style elections? Thank heavens O’Connor no longer is able to gut the first amendment.