A lawsuit that has been lingering for three years in Alabama could have interesting implications in future elections of state appellate judges.
The lawsuit dates to 2016 when plaintiffs argued that statewide elections of judges for such seats as the Alabama Supreme Court violate the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs are asking the federal judge, who will hear arguments next month, to order Alabama to switch to elections by districts, or another method.
Alabama’s appellate courts are all-white and all-Republican, a point the state argues occurred because the state’s population is largely Republican, and that race is not a factor in the makeup of those courts.
Alabama is certainly overwhelmingly Republican where statewide offices are concerned. Outside of a small group of legislators and U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, Republican hold a firm grip across the state.
Nonetheless, there is a point in the lawsuit that deserves careful consideration.
Many candidates for judge detest having to declare a political party just to seek office. Judges are supposed to be the most respected and able legal minds, to weigh law based on existing doctrine and weighed against the fairness or unfairness of actions or laws that contradict with personal rights of citizens.
No judge should be beholden to a political party or its philosophical platforms and rituals. The deep intrusion of politics into the judicial branch is a threat to the fairness and purpose of the courts.
The idea of electing appellate judges by districts is not far-fetched. Congressional representatives are elected across the nation, including Alabama, from districts for the purpose of gaining broader representation for the people. A similar practice of electing judges by districts within the state would provide a more effective appellate system and at least give some restriction on political parties controlling those seats.
An even better step would be to break those seats into districts and have candidates run without declaring political party affiliation. Alabamians would be ensured of a more effective system in the judiciary.