San Diego’s Bonny DA, Bonnie Dumanis, was quoted on KPBS this morning bemoaning the politicization of local Superior Court Judge elections by partisan political groups. The problem seems that one such group is targeting several such judges up for election this June for not being ideologically acceptable to the group’s own partisan tastes.
I empathize with our for Primary Prosecutor’s concern over ideologically litmus-testing people who are really supposed to be fair and balanced (as opposed to Fox which is fair and balanced in so much at it tells its audience demographic exactly what it wants to hear) in the exercise of their public duty . At the same time I’ve got to ask, “Well what did you think is going to happen when you pick custodians of Justice like these judges—and officers of the court like yourself—by popular election?”
California operates under a noble (or simply foolish) myth that simply striking party affiliations off from the names of people running in local elections makes such elections, viola, non-partisan. It doesn’t, it hasn’t and it never will. Elections are by their very function a partisan affair. For decades San Diego could participate in the ruse of nonpartisanship when a homogenous voting majority (read “white Republican”) almost always got it’s way in municipal (read “city-wide”) and judicial elections. As San Diego has become more diverse ethnically, socio-economically and politically—in other words as the former political homogeneity broke down—non-partisan (read non-competitive) elections became increasing partisan.
So if the good DA doesn’t like the partisanship there is only one solution: the Federal Model (you know, the one created by those pesky constitutional framers) in which the custodians of Lady Justice’s virtue are appointed (by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate) to a life tenure. Such longevity of appointment is supposed to provide insulation from the very form of ideological pressure Dumanis alleges these judges are being exposed to. (It might be pointed out that her Federal counterpart is also appointed by the President with the Advice and consent of the Senate though not for life. These prosecutors—the Bush Justice Department notwithstanding—are then supposed to be allowed to proceed with their judicial duties in a judiciously nonpartisan manner.
The Framers in their wisdom (ok, they blew that slavery thing. And the Articles of Confederation were a miserable failure. And they didn’t think through the long term impact of the apportionment of senators, the electoral college or the rise of political parties transcending state-based politics. But one quibbles…) understood that too much democracy—the kind that leads to the tyranny of the majority—can produce just as many problems as too little democracy. Tyranny is tyranny, if you are on the non-repressing side. So maybe, what with all the other ideas being floated around for constitutional reforms in the Golden State, reconsidering the election of judges—and Das—need be discussed.
Until then Californians need remember that you can not have your nonpartisan judges and eat your political election cake to.
(And on that strained proverb, it’s off to the obviously—on my part—much needed weekend.)