ABA President on 'Preserving Lady Justice's Blindfold'

“Let’s Leave Politics Out of It” is the apt headline for a commentary by American Bar Association President Carolyn B. Lamm that spells out the ABA’s principles in the context of recent events.

In ABA Journal, Lamm refers to President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.  “Partisan inquiries into the personal political beliefs of nominees or their positions on pending legal issues are unacceptable,” Lamm writes, pointing to the peer review and scholarly analysis that went into then-Judge Sotomayor’s high rating by the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

When Lamm turns to election of state judges, she warns:

“The financial and political pressures of running for office inevitably undermine the public perception of a prospective judge’s integrity and ultimately create distrust of the fairness of our judicial system.”

Lamm also discusses the landmark Supreme Court decision in Caperton v. Massey. The case involved an issue of potential bias when a judge had benefited from millions of dollars in campaign support from a party to a case. The case, Lamm says, illustrates that the perception problem “is only getting worse:”

“Between 2000 and 2007, state candidates raised $167.8 million—more than double the total raised throughout the entire 1990s. Merit-based appointments via transparent, diverse nominating commissions are the best means of ensuring fair and impartial courts. A judicial system that requires judges to solicit contributions from interests appearing before the court risks removing the blindfold from the eyes of Lady Justice.”

The ABA is a partner of Justice at Stake. You can learn more about Caperton by reading Gavel Grab, and you may read the JAS amicus brief in the case by clicking here. To learn more about merit selection of judges, click here for the JAS issues page on the topic.

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