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Michael Bitzer: Pros and Cons of Partisan Judicial Elections

March 2, 2011

Category: Events, Faculty, Politics

By Michael Bitzer, Political Science Professor and Political Expert
(Special to the Salisbury Post)

In the Feb. 26 edition, the Salisbury Post gave a "dart" to NC House Bill 64 (Senate Bill 47, co-sponsored by Rowan County's state Sen. Andrew Brock (R-Davie)) to return judicial elections in North Carolina to a partisan election, rather than the current non-partisan election system. In the study of judicial politics, it might be helpful to know what researchers have found when judges are subjected to the "will of the people," both in terms of partisan and non-partisan elections.

Twenty-two states use elections to select judges, with a majority of those states utilizing non-partisan elections —North Carolina being one of them. Surrounding the idea of judicial elections are contending values: making the third branch of government responsive and accountable to the people, while ensuring the idea of fairness and impartiality in the administration of justice.

In an analysis of judicial elections across the states, two political scientists (Chris Bonneau and Melinda Gann Hall) explored the arguments and "myths" of judicial elections, one of which is that nonpartisan elections "depoliticize" campaigns and decrease the amount spent on judicial elections. In fact, the researchers found that nonpartisan judicial elections increase the costs of campaigns, whereas partisan elections decreased the costs of elections. Read more...


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