Judicial elections have changed dramatically in the past two decades as the amount of money spent to elect judges has skyrocketed. Special interests and political parties have poured money into supporting their favored candidates for state supreme courts. In recent years the Wisconsin Supreme Court has offered perhaps the most dramatic illustration of what happens with courts suffering from too much politics.
In our system of government, judges interpret and apply laws to situations involving two or more parties. State supreme court justices are the final interpreters of state constitutions, which means that the judiciary is responsible for holding state legislatures and governors accountable if they violate state constitutions. In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton explained that judicial independence is crucial to ensuring that legislators do not enact laws that are popular but unconstitutional. If the judiciary is subject to the same political pressures as legislators, however, then it cannot serve its vital role as a check on the political branches of government.
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