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John Oliver: Why Elected Judges Are Bad For Democracy

The vast majority of US judges are elected, forcing many judges to pander to the electorate and accept campaign money in order to keep their jobs.

Why does it take a British comedian to see so clearly what our establishment media can't?

On Sunday, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver criticized one of the most unique aspects of US democracy: elected judges.

"The problem with an elected judiciary is sometimes the right decision is neither easy or popular," Oliver said. "And yet, campaigns force judges to look over their shoulder on every ruling."Oliver said the big concern is that these popular elections, which occur in 39 states, force judges to take tough-on-crime stances to look like they're cracking down on the nation's worst criminals — just to appease voters.

One study by two Emory Law School professors found that state supreme court justices are less likely to rule in favor of criminal defendants when TV ads label them "soft on crime."

Elected officials, including judges, have pushed policies for decades that have turned the US into the world's leader of mass incarceration. The empirical evidence suggests that locking up so many people does little to contain or reduce crime. Instead, it costs taxpayers millions each year to fund prisons, and some nonviolent offenders end up imprisoned for decades for crimes as small as marijuana trafficking.

Sometimes judges may have their decisions swayed by campaign contributions, which can come from lawyers who are presenting cases the judges are ruling on. A 2006 New York Times investigation found that justices on the Ohio Supreme Court routinely sat on cases after receiving contributions from some of the parties involved, voting in favor of contributors an average of 70 percent of the time.

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