THE BLOG
11/20/2013 11:50 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

If Ever There Was a Reason to End Judicial Elections

"Since 1982, Alabama judges have overridden 95 verdicts sentencing defendants to death even though the jury voted for life----many times by a vote of 12 to 0." (N.Y. Times 11/19/13) Either Alabama has some very compassionate juries or something else, more sinister, is at work here. I confess---I have never been required to consider or impose the death penalty. I have imposed hundreds if not thousands of sentences. There is nothing more difficult or wrenching. I cannot envision anything more so than deciding whether or not to impose the death penalty. To be relieved of that grave responsibility and entrust that decision to a jury would seem to me to be a godsend---not being required to play god with another person's life.

How then can one account for 95 cases imposing it, when a jury has decided otherwise? I do not wish to attribute bad motives to every such decision, but the sheer number has to suggest that future elections or promotions loom in the background. If these reversals of life to death sentences were motivated in any part by public pressure or personal ambition, they deserve condemnation. They serve as further evidence of the corrosive effect of judicial elections.

Bad enough that judges receive contributions from lawyers or potential clients, that corporations can now pick their judicial candidates, that the public is usually unaware of the qualifications of the candidates and that the campaigns are frequently degrading. But then add to that -----possible influence over the decision making process-----that judges are deciding cases (and worse---imposing the death penalty) in order to win votes.