Not long ago I wrote about the problem likely to occur with of increased partisanship in judicial elections. Critics will say that the current “a-political” system also has its problems, and they are right. The fact that judicial candidates cannot talk about issues makes them either a blank slate, or disingenuous, neither of which is a good thing for a judge. There are two other options for putting judges on the bench, and both have their problems. In the Federal system judges are appointed for life by the President. This keeps them above petty politics during their tenure, but it can create problems if a judge is incompetent (a Federal Judge can be impeached for “high crimes or misdemeanors” but not incompetence). Perhaps the best system is the “Missouri Plan,” where the governor appoints judges from a slate established by a panel of citizens and lawyers, and where these judges must periodically stand for retention elections. This is a pretty good system, but even it has problems. In some cases a judge can make an unpopular (though legally sound) ruling which raises the ire of activist groups who seek to remove the judge, not for good cause, but merely for ruling in a way that angers that particular group. Retention elections, in those states that apply the Missouri Plan, are generally very low key, but every once in a while they are incredibly nasty and petty and a disservice to both the judiciary and the political process. .
The problem is that we live in an imperfect world, so there can never really be a perfect system. Not for selecting judged for courts, nor for much else. People are imperfect beings, and unfortunately when you put them in a group you don’t overcome the imperfections, rather you tend to multiply them. And the world is an immensely complex place. Adding imperfection to complexity is not a formula for creating simplicity or perfection.
But we like simplicity. It is much easier to understand simple ideas and slogans than the complexity of the real world. But simple slogans, and simple solutions, are unlikely to solve complex problems. Sometimes they will, but more often than not they won’t.
Politicians and political commentators love to say “the solution is simple.” But unfortunately nothing is really simple. They might seem simple, but on further analysis they aren’t. Driving a car might seem relatively simple and straightforward, but the reality is that driving a car is dependent upon an incredibly complex system of roads, traffic laws, and fuel distribution networks, not to mention everything that goes into putting the car onto the road in the first place, which implicates everything from the mining of steel and aluminum (for vehicle parts) and coal (for steel production and generating power to run factories) to growing the rubber for the tires and educating the engineers who design the car in the first place.
If you scratch below the surface of just about anything you will find complexity. And this can be quite madding. So it is understandable that people turn to the idea of simplicity, but it is a false hope.
I think this misplaced desire for perfection and flawed belief in simplicity underlie many of our current political problems.