Column: Don't politicize judicial branch

The idea that the judicial branch should be a political force is distasteful, yet many people agree with it. The judicial branch must serve as a nonpolitical power that checks the other branches; it cannot continue to be politicized.

The judicial branch stands as one of the three branches of our federal government — the other two being the executive and legislative branches. It is made up of the court system and oversees disputes on law: civil or criminal.

In 1803, Chief Justice John Marshall established the idea of judicial review. With judicial review, the judicial branch can review laws presented to them in cases and decide the constitutionality of the law. These powers are vital for the judicial branch and require competent justices. These justices should not be political. In fact, the judicial branch is designed to inhibit politicalization; things such as lifelong terms, set salaries and restrictions on lifestyle effectively limit politicalization. However, a major flaw in the system is the election process for judges, which enables politics to seep into the courts.

Many judges sit on the lower-level court system, called the courts of limited jurisdiction. These courts make up 85 percent of all judicial bodies and hear more than 61 million cases a year. Obviously, this is a huge part of the judicial branch that handles a majority of the casework, yet the judges are not all elected properly.

The worst way that a judge can be elected is through the “partisan election,” a system where judges are put on a voting ballot with their political party affiliation. This obviously does not exemplify a nonpartisan election. Not only are some judges elected this way in lower courts, but eight states elect their supreme court justices with this system. And the judges elected this way are not only openly saying their political affiliation — they also take campaign contributions which might cause questionable case decisions in favor of the contributors.

This style of election is a gross violation of the principles of the judicial branch, which should entirely be based on merit and not politics. Having political affiliation listed on a ballot only invites more politics to trickle into the judicial branch, taking away the only branch of government not designed to be political.

As mentioned before, merit-based selections are the best way for judges and justices to be elected. The Missouri Plan has a nonpartisan committee send candidates to the governor who then approves the nomination. There is some risk in politics still playing a role in these types of elections: The committee or the governor could purposely influence nominations based on ulterior motives. However, this small risk is a much better option than an obviously political election.

Elections are just one way that politics have infiltrated the judicial branch. This needs to stop, and the courts must become truly nonpartisan. Having politics in this system only serves to undermine the purpose of the judicial branch — a politically-free branch of government that serves to check the ever-growing power of the other branches. 

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