One of the things that I find very disconcerting here in the United States is the fact that judges are usually either elected or appointed. This means that there is someone to whom each is accountable and it’s not the average person. Judges are supposed to be impartial. Judges are not supposed to be accountable to any political party.
However, the system as it exists now means that judges are partial and they are accountable to those deep pockets that funded their campaigns. This means that every time you step into a courtroom, there is no guarantee that the judge will actually be deciding your case impartially. As a matter of fact, it actually means that you will not receive a fair shot. In the United States, we have a system of common law. Actually, it’s a system of 49 sets of common law (Louisiana’s system is based on civil law). What does common law mean? In short, it means that there are 49 sets of judge-made law.
Read the story below and think about the impact that this is having on our case law.
I felt trapped. I had made it to the top of my profession. I was the chief justice of Alabama, the first woman to head the state Supreme Court. It was, for a lawyer like myself, the pinnacle of achievement. And I’d earned it the hard way. To get to the justice’s chambers, I had won the nation’s most expensive judicial race that year. But at what cost?
I had needed $2.6 million to win—and that money had to come from somewhere. My opponent had raised even more, nearly $5 million in all. It’s terribly awkward and uncomfortable for a judge to have to ask for campaign money. But how are you going to win without it? My biggest concern is how shameful all of this looks to the public.
Two days after my election in 2006, I was with my daughter, Caitlin, on a school field trip when my cellphone rang. A reporter from a national legal publication was calling. Would she ask, I thought, about my election as Alabama’s first female chief justice? Or my plans for reform after holding court in some 40 of Alabama’s 67 counties over 25 years?
“Judge Cobb,” she asked, “how does it feel to be the victor of the most expensive judicial race in the United States this year? And how can you assure the people of Alabama that the contributions you sought are not going to impact how you rule? And how can you convince the people of Alabama not to believe that their courts are for sale?”