Judges and the Politics of Death: Deciding between the Bill of Rights and the Next Election in Capital Cases
79 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2013
The thunderous voice of the present-day "higher authority" that Justice Stevens described is heard today with unmistakable clarity in the courts throughout the United States. Those judges who do not listen and bend to political pressures may lose their positions on the bench.
Decisions in capital cases have increasingly become campaign fodder in both judicial and nonjudicial elections. The focus in these campaigns has been almost entirely on the gruesome facts of particular murders, not the reason for the judicial decisions. Judges have come under attack and have been removed from the bench for their decisions in capital cases with perhaps the most notable examples in states with some of the largest death rows and where the death penalty has been a dominant political issue. Recent challenges to state court judges in both direct and retention elections have made it clear that unpopular decisions in capital cases, even when clearly compelled by law, may cost a judge her seat on the bench, or promotion to a higher court. This raises serious questions about the independence and integrity of the judiciary and the ability of judges to enforce the Bill of Rights and otherwise be fair and impartial in capital cases.
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