Dahlia Lithwick worries that retention elections for state supreme court justices are becoming more and more politicized, particularly with the help of outside money:
Knocking off a state supreme court justice is one of the cheapest political endeavors going. It costs a few measly million bucks to buy a judge’s robe, which is vastly cheaper than a Senate campaign. But when politicians target elected judges and justices with political claims using political tactics (big money and inaccurate accusations), judges are forced to either respond like politicians or judges. Opting to do the former destroys the notion of impartial justice. Opting for the latter ends judicial careers.
And now here we go again.
Three justices on the Tennessee Supreme Court are facing an election-year attack, not for any particular decision they have authored or even for any unpopular opinion they have espoused. No, in an ugly campaign in Tennessee that appears to be getting ever uglier, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who is also the state’s lieutenant governor, is attempting to oust three state Supreme Court justices in their Aug. 7 retention elections, chiefly for the judicial outrage of having been appointed to the high court by a Democrat. Under Tennessee law, the governor appoints Supreme Court justices, and then they come up for retention elections every eight years thereafter. This is a pretty common set-up in states that elect their justices.