Case Study: Chisom v. Roemer 501 U.S. 380 (1991)
CHISOM VS. ROMER 501 U.S. 380 (1991)
Chisom vs. Romer 501 U.S. 380 (1991)
The case of Chisom vs. Romer concerns Janice Clark, who possessed all the education and capabilities of being a United States judge, but was denied the opportunity every time due to her race. Since white voters rarely voted for African-American candidates, Clark only managed to receive 3.2 percent of the total white vote during elections for a judgeship (Neubauer & Fradella, 2014).
She then filed a class action lawsuit in the US District court, in which she alleged the strength of the African-American voting bank was being compromised by rampant racist thought progression when it came to electing candidates to a judgeship. This violated the terms of the Voting Rights Act (Neubauer & Fradella, 2014).
Amended in 1982, section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits any action, qualification, procedure, prerequisite, or standard that compromises with one’s ability and strength to vote simply on account of colour or creed. The section 2(b) further supports the previous one, saying that a situation can be evaluated to discern the legality of such a practice, which gives minority votes less than a fair chance to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice (Cornell Law School, n.d.).
The situation was further enlightened by US District Judge John Parker, who mentioned that only 2 of the total 156 district court judgeships in the state of Louisiana were held by African-Americans (Neubauer & Fradella, 2014). Thus, Clark, representing the African-American population in New Orleans’ largest parish, said that the mindset against electing people of colour to important positions prevented them from being part of the political process and weakened the strength of their voting rights (Cornell Law School, n.d.).
In the end, the district court who ruled on the case decided against Clark. She then appealed against the same in the Court of Appeals, who decided in favour of the decision made by the District Court, saying that section 2 of the Voting Rights Act did not apply to elections for a judgeship (Oyez , n.d.). While ruling, they also distinguished between claims that involve opportunities to participate in the political process, and those that involve electing representatives. In the case of Clark, the court categorized the scenario as falling under the first category, since judges were not electoral representatives. Section 2, however, applied only to judicial elections with respect to the first category, that is, the ability of a voter to participate in the electoral process (Cornell Law School, n.d.).
Pros and cons of judges being elected by their constituents
Firstly, the idea of having judges being elected by their constituents is one directly in correspondence with the idea of democracy. Today, 30 out of the 50 states in United States have some procedure to elect judges, citing that a judiciary elected by elites and their likes violates the concept of a government controlled by the people (Neubauer & Fradella, 2014).
However, as in favour of democracy and independence to select one’s own judiciary as that sounds, electing judges through constituencies has its own cons in the form of the process being tainted by politics and general issues, thus allowing the appointment of less than capable candidates (Neubauer & Fradella, 2014).
Judicial candidates are almost always endorsed and promoted by one or the other political party, which then works in their favour once the candidate is appointed. Additionally, many judges, for a long time, were not specific in their agendas: the usage of hackneyed terms like being hard on criminals, and pursuing justice, eventually led to the appointment of incapable entities (Neubauer & Fradella, 2014).
Today, the process has gotten more costly, dirty, and nasty. Candidates often spend millions of dollars to garner support, and resort to slander to decimate their opposition. Instead of being a sophisticated process to elect a representative of the law, the process is now a race to prove one’s seniority and garner power (Neubauer & Fradella, 2014).
Pros and cons of judges being appointed by elected officials
None of the original US states elected their judges: they were all instated by executive appointment or by the decision of the legislature. The Constitution has defined the role of the President and the Senate in the process. When a position becomes vacant, the Department of Legal Policy in the Department of Justice look for qualified lawyers based on the recommendation of the party leaders in the state with the vacancy. Once the President submits the nomination, the decision is up to the Senate, who may vote in favour of or against the candidate’s selection (Neubauer & Fradella, 2014).
One of the ways in which this method can be considered progressive is that it allows candidates a moderately fair chance to run for judicial positions. Constituencies who elect judges are often held back by their personal opinions against a candidate, a condition that is eliminated in this method of selection (Neubauer & Fradella, 2014).
However, what the method lacks in people’s prejudice, it makes up for in political influences in the selection process for the judges. Oftentimes, the selection of judges by Executive appointment has two common criteria: the candidates are from the ruling party and have played an active role in politics. When the Senate votes against a candidate, the selection then becomes a battleground for politics and members trying to promote candidates of their choice for their own gain (Neubauer & Fradella, 2014).
Should judges have terms?
Since the judiciary itself has been advocated as a harbinger of democracy and oftentimes, an extension of it, its leaders should also have terms in office, following which they may choose to either continue playing another part in the law-making process, or choose to retire.
The method not only supports fair chances of selection, or election, for a candidate, but also leaves room for change in the judicial system and structure as well. Every new term may bring in a new way of advocacy, judging and interpreting the law, which will be a mixture of experience and learnings from the dynamic times.
I support the decision because I feel that the longer a figure stays in one position, the harder it becomes for him/her to open up to new avenues of thinking. Generation gap is also applicable to the legal system: judges who have been in office for years are less likely to deviate from their beloved way of ruling, no matter where the scales tip. New judges, on the other hand, will be the results of a dynamic and more recent time, and thus more likely to consider varied aspects of a case that one who has been in office for a longer term may not.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Cornell Law School. (n.d.). Chisom v. Roemer (90-757), 501 U.S. 380 (1991). Retrieved October 14, 2015, from Legal Information Institute – Cornell University Law School: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/90-757.ZS.html
Neubauer, D. W., & Fradella, H. F. (2014). Judges . In D. W. Neubauer, & H. F. Fradella, America’s Courts and the Criminal Justice System (pp. 199-219). Wadsworth: Cengage Learning .
Oyez . (n.d.). Chisom v. Roemer. Retrieved October 14, 2015, from Oyez – IIT Chicago-Kent School of Law at Illinois: https://www.oyez.org/cases/1990/90-757
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