Every couple of years I go through a twenty minute rant. I'm sure many of you do as well.
It happens as we are leaving the polls, after having voted.
We stuff the voting receipt in our pocket, immersed for a few minutes in pride that did our civic duty, and we consider how fortunate we are to be afforded this honor and we might mouth a quick thank you to those who fought and died to confer this honor upon us.
Then, a few minutes later, I start thinking about how stupid it is that we vote for judges.
Everybody knows what I am talking about.
Many of us never even make our way down to the bottom of the ballot. All of these judicial circuits; all of these names - some obviously Irish; others seem to be African American; and several clearly Jewish. Every name sounding more ethnic than typical American names - on the sample ballot I see Allen Murphy, Edwin Reyes, even an Edmund Michalowski, but no Bob Smith - we realize that certain candidates might have been cherry picked to run in certain circuits in order to garner that ethnic support, or perhaps to divert votes from other leading candidates with the same ethnicity, so as to give an advantage to someone else sporting a lesser represented ethnicity within that district.
Having once practiced law, I feel that I have a duty to work my way through the ballot and to do my best to make an informed decision. At minimum I'll refer to a major newspaper and simply follow their endorsement. With more time, I'll consider what rankings various bar associations offer candidates. "They're all practicing lawyers" I reason. "They have a vested interest, and I have to presume that their interest parallels mine - to have qualified, intelligent men and women holding these positions." Is that true?
Judges are important, and integrity and competence are vital qualities, as is experience.
Yet, how unfortunate when citizens simply go down to the bottom of the ballot and punch names of people whose names sound good. Sure; our media and our society preaches to everyone to go and vote. But in reality, what we ought to say is to go and vote responsibly.
I recently spoke with a campaign manager for a judicial candidate. He informed me that his candidate was fortunate enough to have landed the first position (out of five) for the vacant position. He also told me how important it is to have the longest name, which his candidate did.
I happen to have met this particular candidate a couple of months earlier and I was impressed with him. He had a long list of accomplishments, an impressive legal resume, and most important, he seemed to seeking this office for the right reason: to be an excellent judge. He spoke with me for a half hour, impassioned and enthused about the race and how he would excel as a judge . Now, on the eve of the primary, I am impressed with the endorsements he has received from reputable sources.
And so, I'll vote for him, and with this email I'll urge a few of my friends to do the same. (If you are reading this, you are one of them.)
But there has to be a better way to select judges - a way so that judges are chosen based on qualification, and not political in-siding. Can Bar Associations do it? If so, which Association, and how do we know that they aren't simply siding with judges who make life easy and profitable for lawyers? Should a commission or panel decide? Then, who chooses the members of the panel?
There must be a better way, and I know that tomorrow I will fume for a short while about it, before getting lost in my other day to day responsibilities.
But before fuming, I will punch number 195, casting my ballot in favor of 'Steven James "Steve" Bernstein' Judge, 9th Subcircuit.
If you are going to vote, please consider doing the same.