I could not agree more with U.S. Supreme Justice (retired) Sandra Day O’Connor’s New York Times Op-Ed entitled “Take Justice Off the Ballot,” encouraging states to end open elections, especially partisan ones, for judges. She is in favor of a merit selection process where a nonpartisan nominating commission interviews and investigates applicants for judicial vacancies and recommends candidates for gubernatorial appointment. She writes,
“A better system is one that strikes a balance between lifetime appointment and partisan election by providing for the open, public nomination and appointment of judges, followed in due course by a standardized judicial performance evaluation and, finally, a yes/no vote in which citizens either approve the judge or vote him out. This kind of merit selection system — now used in some form in two-thirds of states — protects the impartiality of the judiciary without sacrificing accountability.”
She goes further, recognizing the problem of judges having to take political contributions. She states,
“When you enter one of these courtrooms, the last thing you want to worry about is whether the judge is more accountable to a campaign contributor or an ideological group than to the law.”
Not to mention that judicial elections have gotten very expensive and very ugly, sometimes resulting in disciplinary proceedings for judges and judicial candidates. For example, challenger and now current Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman used false and/or misleading statements in a TV ad to defeat sitting Justice Louis Butler. See articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here and here.
I myself have argued for some time that judges should be appointed to ensure judicial independence. (I am not in favor of retention elections after appointment, unlike Justice O’Connor.) See my articles A Call for Change: Improving Judicial Selection Methods and Voting and Electoral Politics in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The Judicature Society has an entire website devoted to resources about judicial selection at http://www.judicialselection.us/. It is a fantastic website with loads of information.