New York’s court officials have decided to bar New York’s elected judges from hearing cases involving lawyers and others who make major financial contributions to their campaigns. The New York Times reports that the new rule of the state court system will be announced this week by Jonathan Lippman, the state’s chief judge. “It is believed to be the most restrictive in the country, bluntly tackling an issue — money in judicial politics — that has drawn widespread attention,” said the paper.
The new rule decrees that “no case shall be assigned” by court administrators to a judge when the lawyers or any of the participants involved donated $2,500 or more in the preceding two years.
Of course this is a good rule, and it should be in place in every state that elects judges (not that there should be any such states). Lawyers appearing in front of judges they had given campaign contributions to, and litigants having important lawsuits before the same judges who had received money from them, both make the legal system look corrupt and rigged, as indeed it sometimes is. This will make it harder for judges to raise campaign funds, and the court system in the Empire State has taken a very principled, very significant step that will place pressure on other states to emulate.
Now here’s my question: If it is obvious that it is a conflict of interest and creates the appearance of corruption for judges to decide the fates of contributors—and it is—why do we allow elected legislators to do it?