The NYTimes has a good piece today on judicial elections, pointing out how odd American practice is compared to the rest of the world.
Contrast th[e] distinctively American method of selecting judges
with the path to the bench of Jean-Marc Baissus, a judge on the
Tribunal de Grand Instance, a district court, in Toulouse, France. He
still recalls the four-day written test he had to pass in 1984 to enter
the 27-month training program at the École Nationale de la
Magistrature, the elite academy in Bordeaux that trains judges in
“It gives you nightmares for years afterwards,” Judge
Baissus said of the test, which is open to people who already have a
law degree, and the oral examinations that followed it. In some years,
as few as 5 percent of the applicants survive.
My work on judicial elections shows that elected judges serve their constituents (see also Judge and Jury). In particular, when the defendant is an out-of-state corporation awards are much higher in states that use partisan elections to select their judges than in other states. As one judge put it bluntly:
As long as I am allowed to redistribute wealth from out-of-state companies to injured in-state plaintiffs, I shall continue to do so. Not only is my sleep enhanced when I give someone’s else money away, but so is my job security, because the in-state plaintiffs, their families, and their friends will reelect me."
Richard Neely (1988), West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.