Our legal system is based on the bedrock norm of fairness. The ideal of providing an impartial and equitable framework of “law and order” has served as the very foundation for western, democratic societies. Indeed, the principle of legal “justice” can be traced back to the ancient Greek law-giver, Solon, more than two thousand years ago, and it was elaborated in ancient times by, among others, the Greek Stoics, Plato, Aristotle and the Roman lawyers, especially in the writings of Cicero. Though still very far from being fully realized in practice, it is the ideal of justice – symbolized by the famous statue of the Roman goddess Justitia, who is blindfolded but holds a sword in one hand and a balance scale in the other -- that inspires the elaborate and often cumbersome system that we take for granted, until it breaks down.
Now it is being threatened in this country. The New York Times notes that big money has been pouring into state judicial elections in recent years, with results that have deeply compromised the principles of fairness and impartiality. During the 1990s, state Supreme Court candidates in the 39 states that hold elections for these positions totaled $83.3 million. That’s a lot, but the figure for 2000-2009 was $206 million, and the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows free (and unreported) corporate and union campaign giving has opened the floodgates to much more. We should be alarmed about this.
What can be done about it? Change the existing system so that judgeships cannot be so directly "bought".