Shira Goodman, former Deputy Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, has published an article in the Drake Law Review exploring the ramifications of the overwhelming public perception that justice is for sale. Goodman’s article, “The Danger Inherent in the Public Perception that Justice is for Sale,” considers why this perception is pervasive, what consequences stem from its dissemination, and how these challenges can be addressed.
The public’s waning confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary stems from the judicial election process. This process requires judges to conduct campaigns and raise money in order to be elected to the bench. The public perceives that campaign contributions influence judicial decisions. Whether or not this perception is true, it has an impact on public confidence and is fueled by the fact that campaign contributors often appear before the judges to whom they have given money.
Lawyers and judges often try to dispel this perception by claiming that money has no effect on judicial decision making. “Claiming that campaign contributions do not affect judicial decision making and are not intended to do so has done nothing to mitigate the public perception that justice is for sale.” Because lawyers and judges are at the heart of the campaign contribution system that fuels this negative perception, they lack the credibility to dispel it.
This lack of public trust undermines the very operations of the American judiciary. “Public trust in our courts is more than just good civics; it is necessary to the continued functioning of our governmental structure.” Without a belief in judicial independence and impartiality, people are less likely to trust and follow the orders of the court.
The article concludes by offering a solution to these problems: replace judicial elections with Merit Selection. “To date, no state has found a way to solve this problem while continuing to elect judges in expensive, partisan contests. The solution is clear – eliminate money from the system and there will no longer be a question of whether campaign contributions affect judicial decision making. No one will have to wonder whether justice is for sale.” Merit Selection does just that – it takes money out of the equation and gets judges out of the fundraising business.