Judges Need Scrutiny from Voters

Article excerpt

Jim Edgar is a former governor of Illinois.

Illinois residents should take a strong interest in the 2000 elections - particularly when it comes to selecting men and women to serve as judges.

This year, we will be electing four of the seven members of our state Supreme Court, nine members of the Illinois Appellate Court and more than 150 trial judges around the state.

It may not be fair to say that most Illinois voters know little about the candidates for these judicial positions, but it is accurate to say that many voters are in the dark when they vote - if they do vote - for judges. Many voters simply ignore the judicial portion of the ballot.

Voting intelligently for judges is not an easy task. Judicial canons and ethics prohibit judges and judicial candidates from commenting on specific issues or cases that may come before them. But judicial candidates often use those appropriate restrictions as an excuse for not sharing their views on broader issues affecting the judiciary and its role in society.

The judicial branch is probably the least known and least understood among the three branches of government, but it often is the most powerful and most intrusive into our lives.

For example, the judiciary can nullify the actions of both the legislative and the executive branches of government. We have seen this often in Illinois, most recently with respect to strong anti- crime legislation known as the "Safe Neighborhoods Act." The legislation had been approved by the General Assembly, and I signed it into law on Dec. 15, 1994, after careful review and consideration. But the Supreme Court held it unconstitutional - a decision that prompted a prolonged, costly, special legislative session focused on re-enacting the law in a way that would win the court's blessing.

The judiciary can affect people's lives for good or for bad. Its power is not just exercised in handing down prison terms. It also can dictate the outcome of other matters - such as the "Baby Richard" case in which the majority of the Illinois Supreme Court insisted on removing a young child from the only family he had known. …