Whether judges should be appointed or elected is a question about which reasonable people can disagree. But the public financing of elections -– for judgeships or any other position -– is an option we should deplore.
Unfortunately, it's a proposal to which the citizens of West Virginia soon may be subjected.
Governor Joe Manchin has proposed a public financing pilot project for the two state Supreme Court seats to be contested in the 2012 election. The governor says his goal is "to relieve judges from the burden of political fundraising and to reduce the potential for appearance of bias as a result of campaign donations."
But do we really want to relieve judges from the burden of political fundraising? It's that very process that demonstrates support in the community and reflects from where that support comes.
And do we really want to reduce the potential for appearance of bias? Let's face it: Judges have associations and affiliations just like the rest of us. The electoral process we have now apprises us of those connections and allows us to draw conclusions about them. Would we be better off with a process that obscures those ties?
Add to these concerns the fact that public financing inevitably favors the incumbent, whose name recognition and status create a distinct advantage over an opponent who could be prohibited from spending the funds necessary to overcome the advantage.
Public funding will come with other restrictions, perhaps preventing challengers from harshly criticizing the incumbent and his record. Do we want judges insulated from criticism?
What right does any lawmaker have to make the citizens of West Virginia subsidize campaigns that would not be supported voluntarily?
"To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical," said Thomas Jefferson. Compelling you, the voter, to finance a candidacy that you oppose is even more repugnant.