Since the New Deal, despite several attempts, no state in our nation has shifted to a system for seating state court judges that makes these judges more vulnerable to politics. But that might well change this year. This November, ballot measures in three states would politicize state courts in an unprecedented way, calling into serious question whether the citizens in those states can get a fair day in court.
Legislators in 24 states proposed legislation during the past legislative session (2011–2012) that would enable governors to replace competent state judges, a power that would, in practice, result in more conservative replacements in states across the country. Legislators in Missouri, Florida, and Arizona managed to place referendums on this November’s ballot that if approved by voters would severely restrict judicial independence and belie the promise of fairness before the law. State judges that are expected to protect citizens’ rights will become more and more aligned with conservative and corporate interests.
The reason: Conservatives are behind the majority of these efforts. After failing to achieve their preferred policy outcomes though the legislative process or the ballot box, these individuals are now turning their sights on the courts. Not only is much at stake for progressive policy causes, but even worse, the health of our democracy and the public’s faith in our system of justice are at risk, too.