In the United States, almost 90 percent of state judges have to run in popular elections to remain on the bench. In the past decade, this peculiarly American institution has produced vicious multi-million-dollar political election campaigns and high-profile allegations of judicial bias and misconduct. The People’s Courts traces the history of judicial elections and Americans’ quest for an independent judiciary—one that would ensure fairness for all before the law—from the colonial era to the present.
In the aftermath of economic disaster, nineteenth-century reformers embraced popular elections as a way to make politically appointed judges less susceptible to partisan patronage and more independent of the legislative and executive branches of government. This effort to reinforce the separation of powers and limit government succeeded in many ways, but it created new threats to judicial independence and provoked further calls for reform. Merit selection emerged as the most promising means of reducing partisan and financial influence from judicial selection. It too, however, proved vulnerable to pressure from party politics and special interest groups. Yet, as Jed Shugerman concludes, it still has more potential for protecting judicial independence than either political appointment or popular election.
The People’s Courts shows how Americans have been deeply committed to judicial independence, but that commitment has also been manipulated by special interests. By understanding our history of judicial selection, we can better protect and preserve the independence of judges from political and partisan influence.
This is an important book on a vastly important topic--the indispensable source for anyone interested in how the United States arrived at the 'peculiar institution' of judicial elections.
--John Fabian Witt, Yale Law School
The People's Courts is the first comprehensive history of judicial elections, an exciting work that sharply challenges how we usually think about courts, constitutionalism, and democracy. For a long time to come this is going to be the definitive book on elected judiciaries.
--Robert W. Gordon, Stanford Law School
A powerfully framed and comprehensive exploration of how judges and politicians (often politician-judges) responded to the apparent tensions between popular democracy and judicial independence. The People's Courts will be essential reading for everyone interested in the political history of the judiciary.
--Hendrik Hartog, Princeton University
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Jed Shugerman's The People's Courts: Pursuing Judicial Independence in America
The People's Courts: Pursuing Judicial Independence in America by Jed Shugerman (Harvard Law) has been published by Harvard University Press. The publisher's description and blurbs follow.