We can improve Alabama’s way of electing judges
Sue Bell Cobb seems embarrassed by at least one aspect of the election process that made her the next chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and she has reason to be.
The cost of that campaign was "indecent," Judge Cobb said, as quoted by The Associated Press. "It certainly did not improve the image of the courts. I want us to have a method for selecting judges that improves the public's perception of independence and impartiality of the courts."
Three candidates raised almost $7 million in this year's race for chief justice, but cost was not the only problem. The campaign rhetoric was nasty.
Chief Justice Drayton Nabers survived a spirited campaign in the Republican primary against Justice Tom Parker, a disciple of deposed Chief Justice Roy Moore. But Republican Nabers went on to lose the general election to Democrat Cobb, a veteran member of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Both Mr. Nabers and Ms. Cobb were highly qualified, worthy candidates, but both ran negative ads that did not reflect well on them.
Judge Cobb says she hopes to accomplish nonpartisan elections for state judges during her six-year term. She likes the idea of the people voting incumbent judges up or down at the same time the political parties hold primary elections in June. If most people voted against a judge, his or her replacement would be elected during the general election in November.
Ironically, if this system had been in place, Mr. Nabers might be preparing to start a new term in January. Many Alabamians thought he was doing a good job, as shown by his 61 percent win over Mr. Parker in June.
The plan that Ms. Cobb describes would change the dynamics of judge elections, and it deserves serious consideration. Not only would it reduce costs and partisanship; it also might reduce the influence of the de facto political parties in Alabama judge elections — trial lawyers and business leaders.
Most states appoint judges, but anybody who thinks appointments don't involve politics is naive. Judge Cobb is probably right when she says Alabamians will not support appointing judges. But the electoral system can be improved, and we are glad to see her take on that cause.