How Progressives Are Knocking Out Local Judges Across the Country

Unless you’ve spent a lot of time doing it In a trial courtroom, your understanding of the power of judges is likely to remain little more than a vague collection of impressions taken from episodes of “Judge Judy”. and “Law and Order”. But for those who have spent time in a courtroom – especially as a defendant – that power is all too real.

“The thing about the power of judges – it’s like oxygen, isn’t it? You are not really aware of the oxygen until it is withdrawn from you, ”said Holbrook. “And with judges you are only aware of their power when you are in their courtroom or see how they are hindering your interests through the judicial system.”

In many criminal cases, it is not an exaggeration to say that judicial decisions can make the difference between life and death. In some jurisdictions, state lawmakers have mandated minimum sentences and other regulations to limit judges’ discretion. In many cases, however, judges are given a fairly wide margin of discretion to apply a state’s criminal procedural rules, rules of evidence and condemnation guidelines. In practice, this means that judges often have the power to decide whether a defendant is held on bail, what kind of plea negotiations prosecutors can negotiate between defendants and victims, what the final terms of a sentencing agreement are and for how long a person must remain on probation or probation after serving their sentence. In family and housing courts, judges can lead to less punitive results, for example by opting out of long probation periods for minors convicted of non-violent offenses, or by granting more lenient stays in eviction disputes between tenants and landlords.

In part because of the wide range of judging duties, Americans have never agreed on the best way to select judges for the bench, and our collective indecision is reflected in the complex patchwork of state laws governing judicial selection. Although public debates about the optimal method of judicial selection tend to divide approaches into two distinct categories – those based on popular elections and those relying on some type of appointment – the reality of judicial selection defies simple categorization .

In practice, most states use hybrid models that combine and harmonize different selection methods, often depending on the type of dish in question. In Kansas, for example, some judicial districts empower a commission to appoint district court judges – a system known as “merit selection” – while others use partisan elections that require candidates to declare their party affiliation. Meanwhile, Kansas Appeals Court justices are appointed by the governor, sustained by the state Senate, and then put on hold for one year, yes-no, at which point they may serve a four-year term before re-election to the electoral board. In the state Supreme Court case, Kansas uses a commission-based appointment with no legislative confirmation followed by re-elections. In contrast, Alabama selects all state judges at all levels of the judiciary through party elections. Multiply that complexity to all fifty states and the truly Byzantine nature of judicial selection in America comes into focus.

Despite this complexity, almost all state judges face some form of election control. According to a 2015 study by the Brennan Center, around 87 percent of judges will face at least one election in the course of their career on the bench. The nature of this test differs from race to race – some judges compete in hotly contested party elections while others are only faced with top-down votes – but in the past one dynamic has united most judicial elections: They prefer tough, tough criminals Candidates.

“Tough on Crime Messaging was overwhelmingly the dominant message in judicial elections across the country,” said Alicia Bannon, executive director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “This is true both with regard to the professional background, where it is very unusual for judges to have a background as public defender or civil rights activist, for example, and with regard to the type of messages you see in campaigns, where there is so much more is common practice for judicial candidates to be targeted [for being] gentle against crime and praised as tough against crime. ”

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