Standing on principle

Last week, I lamented the fates of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were voted out of office because of their support for marriage equality. My distress was due in part to their losing their jobs for a cause I consider just, and in larger part because of my desire to see judges insulated from the whims of the public.

Andrew Sullivan flags a case from Washington where the converse seems to be occuring:
Justice Sanders's gay marriage ruling wasn't the only issue in this race, of course. But it was a big issue here in liberal, gay-friendly King County, where more than 58-percent of voters have backed [opponent, Charlie] Wiggins in returns so far. If not for the large pro-Wiggins margin in King County, Justice Sanders, who at present is down by just 3,603 votes, would be headed for six more years on the high court.
It would be easy for me to smile at this result and move on, but to do so would be intellectually bankrupt. I cannot bemoan one judicial group's electoral ouster because of a ruling I liked then celebrate the same process when it hurts a judge whose ruling I disliked. I object to judges being subject to the opinions of the electorate across the board, and find the comfort of Justice Sanders's ouster cold indeed.


  1. So judges ought not to be held accountable by periodic elections? I take it you would be against jury nullification as well.

    To me, the idea that our system allows the validity of the law itself to be judged by ordinary citizens on a jury is one of the marvels of the American system. Judges are not free to discard the judgment of ordinary citizens. Judges can only act as referee, explaining the rules of the game and ruling on disputes. When judgment time comes, if the jury decides Not Guilty, for whatever reason, that's the final say.

    Given that ordinary citizens have such an exalted position in the American legal system, why should we not trust their judgment in elections?

  2. I will say, once more, that the American public has sufficient sway in elections over both the legislative and executive branches of the government. I do not hold the view that the majority view should always prevail without some kind of check, and do not think "ordinary citizens," alone or en masse, have a monopoly on wisdom. Sometimes even the public needs a check on its power. Ask, for example, a Japanese-American in the early 1940s.

    Given that both the legislative and executive branches have to spend much (most? all?) of their time pleasing the public and face the periodic prospect of getting thrown out (which is proper), I believe one branch of government should be able to rule on issues of law without fear of public reprisal. You clearly disagree, which is your prerogative, but you're not going to convince me that "the public" should always have the last word in every situation.

    And refereeing jury trials is one role of judges, but not the only one.

  3. I understand you have a perfect right to your view, and that mine has shortcomings. I'm just being the gadfly, and offering a contrary view that results from making different tradeoffs on shortcomings inherent in the system.

    I am curious if you think Jury Nullification is a good thing. Some people, judges especially, don't like it.

  4. I don't really know much about the subject, GJ. However, from what I gather, I tend to think juries should have the right to render verdicts contrary to laws they consider unjust. I do not think the circumstances are equivalent, however.