The Truth About Retention Elections
April 16, 2008
Promoters of so-called “merit selection” of state judges – where a Star Chamber of lawyers meets behind closed doors to pick judges – often argue that “retention elections” still gives voters a voice in judicial selection.
“Sure, you won’t get to vote for who actually sits on the bench anymore,” they soothingly say. “But we’ll let you vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on whether to retain that judge after he’s been there for a full term.”
Let’s see how that process really works.
In Tennessee, there’s a 12-member Judicial Evaluation Commission that evaluates judges appointed by the Judicial Selection Commission and reports to the voters on whether or not judges should be retained. Basically, it’s a second group of lawyers deciding whether a judge appointed by the first group of lawyers should keep his or her job.
Guess what? They pretty much always tell voters to keep the judge! Here’s their latest report. Every single commissioner voted to retain every single judge – not one dissenting voice. It gets worse: Since Tennessee adopted the Star Chamber, only one judge has ever lost a retention election. And if a judge actually does lose, the same committee gets to nominate another one in his place.
Retention elections are really just a shell game to bamboozle voters into blithely giving up their constitutional right to vote for state judges. But the bottom line is still the same: When lawyers choose, voters lose.