League Of Women Voters of Hawaii on Election of Judges

The League of Women Voters of Hawaii strongly opposes Senate Bills 2238 and 2239, scheduled to be heard by the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee on Wednesday, January 10th at 9:00 a.m.in Room 016.

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Both measures propose preparation of a State Constitutional amendment to elect justices and judges in Hawaii. The League believes these steps would jeopardize selection of judges based on merit. Judicial independence is necessary for the Hawaii State Judiciary to operate as a co-equal third branch of government, including preservation of individual constitutional rights, fair and impartial adjudication of legal disputes, and fair and timely criminal prosecutions. The need for judges to spend money and time campaigning for election would detract from their ability to devote their professional time and energy to official duties.

The right to a fair trial is a founding principle of our democracy, and it’s a value that Americans believe in. New research shows the more TV ads aired during state supreme court judicial elections, justices are consciously or unconsciously less likely to vote in favor of criminal defendants. Moreover, the more campaign contributions from business interests the justices received, the more likely they were to vote in favor of business litigants appearing before them in court.

The revolution in financing political campaigns, especially since the 2010 Citizens United case, (which struck down federal limits on corporate and political spending) has allowed Political Action Committees (PAC’s) and Super PAC’s to advertise heavily in Mainland states where judges are elected. Last November spending in a seven-way race for seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court surpassed $15.8 million, with the top three candidates who collected the most money winning the seats.

SB 2238 and SB 2239 are undesirable for many reasons, but most especially because they would make it possible to leverage “dark” campaign money from obscure sources. Every litigant in a civil case or a defendant in a criminal case needs to know that his or her case will be heard by a judge whose loyalty is to the law, and whose integrity will not be compromised by campaign finance or political pressures.

We hope our legislators will realize how important it is to keep Hawaii’s judges independent and impartial, and will defeat these unwise proposals.

The League of Women Voters of Hawaii is a non-partisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

For more information, visit www.lwv-hawaii.com

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