Monday, July 11, 2011

One more strike against elected judges?

I blogged recently about John Waters' suggestion that Irish judges be elected by the public. In that post I pointed to evidence showing that an elected system yields judges who behave more like politicians than professional adjudicators. Now here's some more evidence via an article about Alabama judges - who are elected - via the NYT:
Since 1976, according to a new report, Alabama judges have rejected sentencing recommendations from capital juries 107 times. In 98 of those cases, or 92 percent of them, judges imposed the death penalty after juries had called for a life sentence. ... more than 20 percent of the people on death row in Alabama are there because of such overrides, according to the report, from the Equal Justice Initiative... The overrides in Alabama contributed to the highest per capita death sentencing rate in the nation, far outstripping Texas.
Overrides are more common in election years.

“Not surprisingly, given the political pressures they face, judges are far more likely than juries to impose the death penalty,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in a 1995 dissent from a decision that upheld Alabama’s capital sentencing system.
The full article is available here. It shows a clear divide between Alabama and two other states - Florida and Delaware - where judges are appointed. The desire to be seen as tough on criminals surely has to be one explanation for this contrast. Note that this is in Alabama - no one would accuse its jurors of being liberals or softies!