Informed Voters Project Hopes to Restore Accountability in Courtroom

In Slate’s Political Gabfest, Emily Bazelon admitted that judicial elections seemed to be the “most ignorant kind of voting” citizens engage in since “almost none of us know who we are voting for or follow the work of the court.”

The National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) couldn’t agree more. That is why they launched the “Informed Voters, Fair Judges” project in 2014.

Spearheaded by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Informed Voters Project is a nonpartisan, voter education effort developed to increase the public’s knowledge of the judiciary. Lack of knowledge, the group argues, threatens fair and impartial courts, which are the cornerstone of American democracy.

The project was launched in 8 states around the country.

One of these states is California, where on November 4, voters will cast their ballots for State Supreme Court races, appellate seats, and district courts.

The NAWJ is working with local partners to educate voters about these races. In San Diego, for instance, the program director of the League of Women Voters (LWV), Jeanne Brown, is hard at work on these efforts.

Between local meetings and forums around the area, the coalition hopes they will be able to disperse the information about this new project.

“People ask all the time where they can get information about [judicial] races,” Brown said. Now, both the Informed Voters Project and smartvoter.org will make this job easier.

The biggest challenge, Brown acknowledges, will be to get citizens to go through the vast amount of information. She noted that although they can point voters in the right direction with where to get information, their organization was nonpartisan and therefore it was still up to the citizens to read up on the issues.

In 2010, 3 Iowa judges who ruled to extend the right to marriage lost re-election after $1 million flowed into the state from national groups.
This topic, though, has never been more important, as more money than ever is being dedicated to judicial races. Donors believe they can get “big bang for their buck” by investing
“a few measly million bucks to buy a judge’s robe.” According to Dahlia Lithwick, this is much cheaper than, say, a Senate campaign, but buys enormous influence.

This kind of influence became evident in November 2010 after the Iowa State Supreme Court ruled on gay marriage. Three judges who ruled to extend the right to marriage lost re-election after $1 million flowed into the state from national groups.

The same kind of politicization threatens to have an impact on Tennessee races where 3 justices, appointed by a former Democratic governor, are under attack by the Republican Senate speaker, Ron Ramsey. Both sides are gearing up major campaigns, turning these judicial retention elections into spending races.

What may result is a loss of judicial independence and integrity.

For all these reasons, the Informed Voters Project, which also has a branch in Tennessee, is that much more important in the 2014 election cycle. As a nonpartisan group educating voters, they have the ability to influence elections through the distribution of knowledge, not dollars.

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