In past political seasons, much has been made of the "toxic" influence of money in politics. Every election cycle is accompanied by commentators who denounce the "sale of elections," as well as further tightening of regulations on campaign contributions.
It is extremely unlikely that money will ever be removed from the political process as all campaigns require funds, and the expense of running for office increases with each election cycle. In addition, the central role of private donations in campaigns allows for voters to have a greater say in the electoral process.
However, there is a venue in which the union of politics and money turns toxic; judicial elections.
Currently, 80% of states select judges by election; these elections are subject to manipulation by a myriad of interest groups seeking to purchase a sympathetic hearing from the bench in legal matters pertaining to their activities.
The Wall Street Journal has noted that "the U.S. Chamber of Commerce got involved in 13 judicial races in 2004 and won 12."[i] This involvement has translated into rulings which are favorable to donors.
Some may wonder how this is measurably worse than the
exchange of funds for political favors which takes place in Congress and state
legislatures. The answer is, quite simply, that there will always be a number
of bad apples in any legislative body--however, they cannot forge policy on
their own. Consensus is still required to create law, and the competing
interests and diverging opinions tend to minimize the impact of any one
interest, however corrupt.
Judges, on the other hand, do not hand down rulings after a grueling process of compromise with hundreds of colleagues. This is well and good; while making law requires consensus, interpreting the law requires expertise. An elite few are responsible for defining that which many men and women come together to create.
The uniqueness of the judicial system also underscores the necessity of impartial judges, for the law must be viewed only through the lens of proper jurisprudence. To read the law in the pursuit of meaner interests benefits a few to the detriment of all.
In states such as