Wanna Buy a Judge?

Talking Points Memo recently ran an article about mysterious campaign contributions to a candidate for Judge in Missouri:

A month ago, Missouri GOP prosecutor Brian Stumpe had less than $100 on hand in his campaign to unseat Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Now, just a few weeks later, he has received $100,000 — all of it funneled into his campaign by a national group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has spent a total of $200,000 so far in this race for a single state judgeship.

The article went on to speculate about the source of the money and the reasons for this effort to dress a favored candidate in judicial robes.

Whatever those reasons, and irrespective of the identity of the donors in this particular case, this is a perfect illustration of why we ought not elect judges.

There was a reason the Founders did not provide for electing the federal judiciary: judges were supposed to be responsive to the Constitution and the rule of law–not to the electorate. Congress and the Executive branch were intended to respond to the political will (within limits); the judiciary, however, was supposed to ensure that those other branches did not violate the Constitution in their eagerness to pander to popular passions.

An independent judiciary was seen as essential to justice.

There is also the matter of perception. When litigants walk into a courtroom and face a judge who’s won office using partisan campaign contributions, especially in cases with political implications or cases involving politically “connected” adversaries, they can be forgiven for worrying that the judge will be less than dispassionate.

No judge can be completely apolitical; humans have points of view and those worldviews come with them when they are elevated to the bench. But when we can’t trust that the administration of justice is as unbiased as our imperfect efforts can make it, we don’t just undermine respect for a particular judge, we erode respect for the rule of law.

There are a lot of unsavory aspects to our current political environment, but the ability to purchase a judge has to rank up there among the worst.


  1. Another example of oligarchy’s threat to democracy. When people have the ability and means to buy the government that favors them, many bad things follow.

    It seems that we are returning to what we fought the Revolution to end. A country run by the privileged. This time the privileged in terms of the resources that they’ve gathered through their lives, before by birthright. Different?

    Power corrupts no matter how it’s gathered.

  2. 1 judge can really screw up a persons life. I spoke with a young man yesterday who did time for a FELONY driving conviction. His sin: Driving with a suspended licence. Improper insurance. NO Booze. NO DRUGS. NO Bad Driving (speeding etc). Just chicken S**T stuff. Now he is a convicted felon. Cannot get his license back. Has a hell of a time getting to work. As you might expect, he is a black man who got caught up in a Hamilton county crusade to convince black folks to STAY OUT of “their” county. (in my opinion)
    Judges are important. Cruel vindictive ones are dangerous.

  3. Patmcc: There is no felony for driving with a suspended licence. He would have been driving as a habitual traffic violator, which takes a great deal of work.

  4. I remember several years back when an Illinois judge was targeted with massive funding for his Republican opponent. His sin? He believed in tort law. His opponent, who won, believed in “tort reform”, i.e., rich people should have no responsibility for their actions. If any penalties are imposed, it should amount to a light slap on the wrist.

    Defeating a judge in Missouri who didn’t let rich people have their way sounds very similar. It is truly sad.

  5. Kilroy; In Florida, the 3rd Driving While Suspended conviction can be charged as a felony and transfered to Criminal Court. Laws are different in different states. Sounds as if Florida laws are tough but…Drivers License is remewed by mail, return the form with your check and they send you a new license with your same picture. My friend renewed her (for ID only) at age 104.

  6. Saw this on Facebook today. The Tea Party maybe stoking fears about Ebola. On the other hand, I think we should be very afraid of how these 12 signs of Fascism are beginning to look familiar:

    1. Exuberant nationalism

    Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic images, slogans and symbols – National flags are seen everywhere in public display. Territorial aggression is explained to be mere destiny — an unbidden greatness thrust upon the nation by history.

    It is this burden of unique responsibility that now raises the fascist state above all previous constraint, no longer bound by international obligations, treaties or law.

    2. Enemies Identified

    This national cause is identified as unity against enemies – The people are rallied around a unifying patriotism directed against some common threat: communists, liberals, a racial, ethnic or religious minority, intellectuals, homosexuals, terrorists, etc.

    The state’s message is sometimes couched in an easily recognized religious theme. Amazingly, this language is used even when the full context of the teaching shows the meaning to be diametrically opposed. Any dissent is “siding with the enemy”, and therefore treasonous.

    3. Rights Disappear

    Disdain for human and political rights – Fascist regimes foster an artificial climate of fear by intentionally amplifying stress and anxiety. Citizens naturally feel a strong need for security and are easily persuaded to ignore abuses in the name of safety. The few still willing to question are met with bullying and smear campaigns of intimidation.

    Legislative bodies, if still in existence at all, are cowed into rubber-stamp submission with occasional ceremonial opposition. The judiciary tends to become activist in support of state views. The public often looks away, or even enthusiastically approves as rights are stripped away.

    The concept of the individual inevitably yields ground, exchanged for the promised safety of the all-powerful state.

    4. Secrecy Demanded

    Obsession with secrecy and national security – The workings of government become increasingly hidden. Questioning of authority is discouraged at all levels of society. From office talk at the water cooler up through the entire apparatus of rule, guarded speech and secrecy become ends in themselves.

    Troubling questions are muted and entire areas of scrutiny are placed out of bounds by simply invoking “national security”.

    5. Military Glorified

    Supremacy of the military – The military establishment receives a disproportionate share of government resources, even as pressing domestic needs are neglected. Individual soldiers and military culture are glamorized and made constantly visible.

    This provides both an object for public glorification, as well as sharp warning to possibly restless citizens that the power of the state stands close at hand, ready to use its great potential for violence.

    6. Corporations Shielded

    Corporate power is protected – Typically, a segment of the business elite plays a major role in bringing fascists to national leadership, often from an unsavory obscurity. This marriage of big money and raw violence is often considered by historians to be the hallmark and backbone of fascism.

    As these business-government-military interests meld, the significant threat of organized labor is clearly recognized. Labor unions and their support organizations are either co-opted successfully or ruthlessly suppressed and eliminated as soon as possible.

    7. Corruption Unchecked

    Rampant cronyism and corruption – Fascist states maintain power through this relatively small group of associates, mutually appointing each other to interlocking and rotating positions in government, business and the military.

    With this degree of control, they make full use of both official secrecy and the ready threat of state violence to insulate themselves from any meaningful criticism. They are not accountable and are shielded from scrutiny in a way unthinkable in a democratic society.

    8. Media Controlled

    Mass media – Sometimes the media are controlled directly by clumsy government functionaries. At other times, sympathetic corporate media insiders shape the themes indirectly, and therefore more skillfully. Image regularly trumps content as the “news” is presented breathlessly and with flashy stage effects.

    A practiced formula of tenacious repetition brings even the most absurd lie into acceptance over time. By design, the very language itself and the coloration employed will push alternate views “out of the mainstream”.

    The terms of any remaining debate are narrowly defined to the state’s advantage, making it easy to marginalize a truly differing perspective. Censorship and “self-censorship”, especially in wartime, is common.

    9. Rampant Sexism

    Rampant sexism – Governments of fascist states tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Traditional gender roles are made even more rigid and exaggerated. Virulent homophobia is commonly built into broad policy.

    10. Intellectual Bullying

    Disdain for intellectuals – Fascist society tends to create an environment of extreme hostility to critical thought in general, and to academics in particular.

    Ideologically driven “science” is elevated and lavishly funded, while any expression not in line with the state view is at first ignored, then challenged, then ridiculed and finally stamped out.

    It is not uncommon for academics to be pressured to attack the work of their insufficiently patriotic peers. Writings are censored; teachers are fired and arrested. Free artistic expression in new works is openly attacked, and existing works deemed unpatriotic are often publicly destroyed.

    11. Militarized Police

    Obsession with crime and punishment – Fascist society is often willing to overlook police abuses and forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. Long jail sentences for clearly political offenses, torture and then assassination are at first uncomfortably tolerated, and then start to pile up to become the norm.

    Often a national police force is given virtually unlimited power to snoop through the civilian population. Networks of surveillance and informers are employed, both for actual intelligence gathering and also as a means to keep neighbors and co-workers isolated and mistrustful of each other.

    12. Elections Stolen

    Fraudulent elections – In the disordered time as fascists are rising to power, the electoral arena becomes increasingly confusing, corrupted, and manipulated.

    There is rising public cynicism and distrust over what are widely believed to be phony elections manipulated by moneyed influence, obvious media bias, smear campaigns, ballot tampering, judicial interference, intimidation, or outright assassination of potential opposition. Fascists in power have been known to use this disorder as the rationale to delay elections indefinitely.

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