“When you have a system where judges are serenaded with banjos, shake down lawyers for money, compare themselves to prostitutes, and live in constant fear of tractors, you have a problem. Because faith in a strong, independent judiciary is essential for a civilized society. Without it, we’re settling disputes either in Thunderdomes, or via The Purge.”

Judicial elections got a rare moment in pop culture after the 2013-14 cycle’s close. In February 2015, John Oliver’s HBO show, Last Week Tonight, aired a 13-minute segment comically confronting the problems that underlie the almost-uniquely-American practice of electing judges. 1 He highlighted key issues, from how some state judges can solicit campaign money from the attorneys who appear before them, to the absurdity of judicial campaign ads that are menacing or that focus on wholly irrelevant topics.

Oliver got right to heart of the matter:

“The problem with an elected judiciary is that sometimes the right decision is neither easy nor popular. And yet, campaigns force judges to look over their shoulder on every ruling, because while political attack ads can be aggressive, judicial attack ads can be downright horrifying.”

“Judges asking lawyers to give them campaign money is the definition of a conflict of interest. Think about it—giving money to judges wouldn’t be acceptable in a state fair squash growing competition.”

Notes:

  1. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Elected Judges (HBO television broadcast Feb. 23, 2013), available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poL7l-Uk3I8 (last visited Aug. 12, 2015) (complete segment).