Elected judges and judicial independence have always been an awkward fit. “Politicians are expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of their supporters,” as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has observed. By contrast, judges “must ‘observe the utmost fairness,’ striving to be ‘perfectly and completely independent.’”
Put simply, judges are supposed to put aside their political or partisan preferences and decide cases based on their understanding of what the law requires—even if it’s unpopular. That is a lot to ask of anyone—but election pressures can make that job even harder.
Thirty-eight states use elections for their state high courts. Across the country, these elections have become increasingly expensive and politicized. Today, one-third of all sitting justices on elected courts have run in a million-dollar election, as documented in a recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice and National Institute on Money in State Politics. The 2015-16 election cycle had a record number of big-money supreme court races.
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Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring that all Pennsylvanians can come to our courts with confidence that they will be heard by qualified, fair, and impartial judges
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