VIDEO: John Oliver Explains Why It’s a Terrible Idea for America to Hold Elections for This Public Office
The recent legalization of gay marriage in Alabama was marred by the comments of State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who claimed that the “power over marriage, which came from God under our organic law, is not to be redefined by the United States Supreme Court or any federal court.” Moore ordered Alabama judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in defiance of federal law.
Like 85 percent of state judges across America, this man was elected to office. But as John Oliver pointed out on Last Week Tonight, we only really pay attention to these particular elected officials when they make headlines—usually for inflammatory statements like Moore’s. The vast majority of U.S. judges run unopposed for their seats, which doesn't exactly give the electorate a lot of choice. And the few who are forced to run campaigns are put in a morally fraught position. “Elections are inherently compromised,” Oliver says, because of their exorbitant cost. The hefty price tag of a campaign forces candidates for the judiciary to hit lawyers up for contributions, which is, as Oliver points out, “the definition of a conflict of interest.”
Needless to say, corruption and unfair influencing is rampant in our judicial system. Numerous studies have proven that judges hand down harsher convictions in election years for fear of getting booted out by tough-on-crime opponents. PACs and Super PACs throw around serious amounts of cash to support judges whose ideas align with their own political ideologies. And judges often vote in favor of the lawyers who fund their campaigns. A New York Times analysis of Ohio judicial elections found that judges voted for their contributors a shocking 70 percent of the time.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, given the pervasive, corrupting influence of money in American politics. But as Oliver reminds us, “Faith in a strong, independent judiciary is essential to a civilized society. Without it, we’re settling disputes either in Thunderdomes or via The Purge.”