The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

27 October 2004

Retention headaches

Nineteen states, including Oklahoma, have a retention ballot for appellate judges: under the name of the court, the ballot reads, "Shall [judge's name] be retained?" The voter gets to choose Yes or No.

Dr. Bob Darcy, Regents professor of political science and statistics at Oklahoma State University, says that we don't know much of anything about the judges, but we vote to retain them as a measure of support for the judicial system.

Can anything be done? Should anything be done? Appointments for life will obviously remove the judges entirely from oversight by the electorate. The state bar maintains a Council on Judicial Complaints, but the Council's operations generally fly well under the public radar. Once in a while an interest group will try to stir up opposition to a judge who has issued a ruling unfavorable to them, but seldom does it make any difference: judges are routinely returned to office with about a 2-1 majority. Before I took up the mantle of Sort of Political Blogger, my own rule of thumb was to vote against anyone I'd ever heard of, on the basis that if the judge had somehow gotten into the news, it likely wouldn't have been good news.

Maybe there's a better way, but for the moment, I'm stumped.

Posted at 9:03 AM to Soonerland

The 1986 ouster of then-Chief Justice Rose Bird in California was the only retention-election defeat I've ever heard of (IIRC, some lower court judges are elected outright in Calif.).

Having lived here in Georgia a few years and voted in a few judicial elections -- none of that "retention" horse-puckey down here) I think I like outright election of judges over appointment-and retention, simply because an opponent can try to make a strong case against the incumbent, while it's harder to do that with a retention election.

Furthermore, our hyper-interventionist state Supreme Court Justice Leah Sears was challenged rather determinedly this year but skated to victory, so fears of hyperpoliticizing the judiciary seem unfounded. If anything, judicial elections here could stand to be a little more politicized.

Posted by: McGehee at 5:56 PM on 27 October 2004