Yeah, OK, so they lead off with a guy who is actually a lawyer and did shady things.
I'll give another example: 3 (elected) judges with law degrees who got into a brawl involving pistols at a white castle:
Here's another one:
I don't care if a judge has a law degree. Most lawyers I've met in the US are functionally morons anyway. This is just dipshits with a certificate trying to protect their perquisites. I'd honestly rather a barber judge me in a trial than most lawyers, and anyone on here who is trying to make the law so godawful complex it needs an "expert" to interpret it, you're part of the problem.
While I'm dropping links:
If the affected parties believe a judge made an incorrect decision, there exist procedures for appeal or even revisiting the question in a subsequent case.
If judges in a jurisdiction are elected, it is the responsibility of the electorate to make sure the judges they select are the most qualified (perhaps by studying previous decisions, academic publications, etc). Analogously, if judges are appointed by other elected officials, it is the responsibility of the electorate to select public servants who are good at appointing competent judges.
That is possible only if you actually know the law. If you do not know it, you cant interpret it.
So yes, people are needed to interpret the law, but not really anyone. Kinda like we need programmers, but not really anyone.
Responsibility is not a zero sum game. Voters and officials who elect and appoint judges are responsible for their actions just as much as judges are responsible for upholding and following the law. While many areas of the law are ambiguous and up to the discretion of the judge to decide, many other areas are well-established and clear cut (such as the illegality of jailing defendants who have not had access to a lawyer). The fact remains that we cannot exist as a society that depends on the rule of law to function if we have judges and other officers of the court who are unwilling or incapable of upholding the law as it exists.
What you are saying is strictly, clearly incorrect.
In fact, not only has every person who has served as a SCOTUS justice been an attorney, but every person nominated has been an attorney. 
Stanley Forman Reed, to whom you are referring as the person who retired in 1957, attended but did not graduate from law school - perhaps that's the source of your confusion? In any case, Reed had a long, storied career as an attorney before being nominated to the Court.
Again: every person for whom a nomination has been submitted by a POTUS to the Senate has been an practicing attorney, barred in one or more US States. There has not been a single exception. And certainly no nomination even approaching "no legal background whatsoever."
The law in SC is literally that bad language on the public road is a crime. They ignored 2 pages of precedents.
Not clear what you mean here. If the law is “literally” that bad language on the road is a crime, doesn’t that mean the 2 pages of precedents support it?
Swearing on the public street is disorderly conduct in the state of South Carolina. The 2 pages of precedent is that you can't criminalize the word fuck due to the first ammendment rendering South Carolinas law invalid.
Courts have repeatedly found that you can't criminalize speech save for very narrow bounds. Using a bad word while leaving isn't "fighting words" by the legal definition.
A variety of cases have gone as high as the Supreme Court for example City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451 (1987)
> the ordinance is not narrowly tailored to prohibit only disorderly conduct or fighting words, but impermissibly provides police with unfettered discretion to arrest individuals for words or conduct that are simply annoying or offensive.
The constitution of the United States isn't a thing in SC unless you have money sufficient to appeal matters until you get out of the state.
Kind of like Texas prosecuting gay sex
Another case more recently
However this has been a settled matter for decades which police keep ignoring.
Why not require law degrees? It’s not like “elected” must mean “can’t require qualifications”?
Why not elect system administrators? Everything you mention is true of them in many places as well.
Journalists understand that suicide is contagious, but take no responsibility to decontaminate their own writing. The report you linked is written in a dangerous way. It will cause death.
For almost all jobs, the common way of doing that is improve compensation and/or working conditions, and I see no reason a coroner should be different.
Sheriff's are elected but in many places are not the chief local law enforcement officer. In many places there is a police force which is led by an appointed police chief. In this situation the sheriff's office is usually limited to courthouse security and serving summons.
The original thought behind electing judges was that they are an equal branch of government which provides a check on the executive and legislative branches so having them appointed by the branches they are suppose to provide a check against makes no sense.
Also this article is about appointed and not elected judges.
EDIT: John Oliver did a bit on this a few years back. Access may be restricted outside USA.
Look at it from the viewpoint of the Andy Griffith show... the circuit judge only shows up every few months. Do you really want to sit in jail until then, or do you want to take the deal/admit your fault/rat someone else out... whether he’s got enough evidence against you or not, you’re still in jail, losing your job, getting your kids taken from you...
It's democracy. It has its pros and cons.
I am certainly more comfortable formally restricting positions of power to the over-educated elite; although rather those with technical degrees over legal ones. But from that perspective it is clear to me why a polity might prefer not to have a legal degree as a requirement.
American football has many rules. Tens of millions of people follow it, and if asked, most will tell you that they know the rules. But, being a game with more than 100 years of history, it accrued plenty of obscure rules that come up infrequently. Referees are expected to know all these rules, and react in a split of a second to uphold the rules.
A few years ago there was a labor dispute between the NFL and the referees, and it resulted in substitute referees for a few weeks. I think most people remember that period as a period of great frustration. It's very likely the substitutes knew the rules too, but not having the experience and the proper training/reflexes, the way they upheld the rules was a bit lacking.
Football players are too familiar with the rules, are expected to follow them, and they generally do. But if you try to ask a player to be a referee, he will probably suck just as much as one of those substitutes.
Law is inherently complex - partly by design, partly because of politics, but also because law is based on established concepts that are non-trivial.
Even a supposedly simple concept like "guilty" includes shades of culpability that an untrained view won't appreciate. This has a direct and very obvious effect on the level of fairness and justice available in the legal system.
So no - generally you do not want untrained people making important decisions about other people's lives. Ideally you want people with wisdom, maturity, and strong personal integrity making those decisions. If that's not available - it often isn't - then a professional knowledge of precedent and case law is the next best thing.
Lawyers are only over-educated in the sense that law is also about manipulating juries, judges, and other lawyers through drama, rhetoric, and grandstanding.
Essentially you can win a case by putting on a good show rather than winning on facts and substance. And that's not a good thing, because it has no relationship to justice.
Without that element - or at least with much less of it - lawyers would have to work harder, but the results would be fairer.
While there are supposedly checks on their powers, abuses though sheer incompetence happen.
"A person can only be designated if he/she has a five-year magistrates' court qualification, was a barrister or solicitor who had served for not less than five years as an assistant to a justices' clerk, or had previously been a justices' clerk"
In such a system where one randomly gets punished without any evidence of a crime being committed, why should one not turn around and assault or even kill the judge? After all in a society without laws, without morality, and without even common sense like south Carolina, that shouldn't even be a problem. It's just savages vs. savages once you get to this point. Why would anyone act ethically in such a horrific situation?
When I was getting a divorce, a lawyer I consulted with gave me the background on the judge handling my case. Apparently she was appointed by the governor to appease a particular voting block and as thanks for her activism work for that group. She knew nothing about family law but was given the job regardless. That situation is apparently quite common in family court since there is a high turnover rate. Judges often have to spend months being taught by the lawyers on the cases they're overseeing.
Having your fate in the hands of these folks is absolutely terrifying.
Pharmacists are hardly uneducated buffoons. And, what are we to make of 'underwear distributor'? Is there a correlation between a business person's judgment and the items they sell? I doubt it.
I can guarantee that the blueprints a construction worker uses, the policies an insurance agent sells, and the manuals a pharmacist is versed in are all much more complex than the laws governing the cases that come before these low-level courts.
No matter their expertise I wouldn’t want the construction worker working as my pharmacist without any training.
Yet we’re ok with giving essentially the entire power of the state to people with no training or experience in law.
Yes, that's what democracy is, for better or worse: the power of the state is ultimately vested in the people, regardless of training, background, gender, skin color, etc. etc. Restricting power to those who are trained in law, or any other narrowly defined group, is called oligarchy. It generally has good outcomes for the oligarchs and those who are close to them, not so much for everyone else.
As a Canadian, even after living in the US for over a decade, I find your comment baffling. For better or worse, the law is a complex subject both in jurisprudence and process. If judges can be significantly less knowledgeable than the attorneys that appear before them then how can the law be applied equally?
The US Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law yet how can that be realized if there are no minimum standards that apply to judges?
Two things that I cannot understand about the US: the election of judges and outright politicization of the mechanics of voting.
Note that you could apply the exact same principle to argue that legislators should be lawyers. After all, if you're not trained in the law, how can you possibly write a law? Or understand the many subtle ramifications of the law that someone else wrote that you're voting on? And why stop at legislators? Why not accept, say, literacy tests? How can a citizen possibly make an informed choice at the ballot box if they can't read a newspaper?
The point I'm trying to make is not that electing judges is good, only that it is, at least in the U.S., a direct consequence of democracy. You may decide that democracy is more trouble than it's worth, and cite this stupidity as evidence. But what you cannot do is say that electing judges is stupid and also that you believe in democracy, because in the U.S. the one has followed directly from the other.
And note well: I am not advocating literacy tests. I am only pointing out the logical consequences of adopting the principle that judges should have special training.
BTW, one of the reasons things are the way they are is that the "indigent and commoners" don't necessarily believe they'll get a fairer shake from someone who has a JD from Harvard than someone who doesn't.
No, it's not. It's perfectly reasonable in our democracy to expect judges to be trained in law in order to effectively do their jobs. Might as well let any random of the street be a doctor without training if that wasn't the case.
Non-legally trained people still participate through the jury system, and more importantly in the House where laws are created in the first place.
Manifestly not. If it were reasonable to expect this, then the founders would have written it into the Constitution, or the People would have changed the law in order to require it. The former didn't happen, and the latter hasn't happened. It may seem reasonable to you, but the whole point of democracy is that the law is not based on what seems reasonable to one person, only on what seems reasonable to the majority. And in this case, requiring judges be lawyers clearly doesn't seem reasonable to the majority, or things would be different.
This assumes that the current state of the law is tacitly approved by the majority of people, which isn't true. For example, polls strongly suggest that a strong majority (>60%) of Americans support marijuana legalization , but federal legalization is nowhere to be seen. Polls suggest that an even stronger majority (>80%) of Americans support background checks on all firearm purchases , but federal legislation again seems far away.
Sounds a lot like 1/12th of a jury.
Jury trials also have jury selection processes that allow lawyers from both sides to eliminate any poorly qualified jurors.
The jury selection process has nothing to do with qualifications of jurors. The prosecutors are primarily trying to eliminate people they think will be sympathetic and the defense is primarily looking to eliminate people they think might biased against their client.
Juror selection isn’t about qualifications. However, it does give both sides an opportunity to eliminate vested or deeply unqualified interests that may be biased against them. With a judge you have no such option.
All of this functions well... unless the electorate is uneducated or misled, and apathetic. That's the real problem in this case. People are winning popularity contests, because the only thing middle and high school taught most of the electorate was that you should be popular.
It isn't true everywhere. Reputation and reputation systems can and do function well. But they require a functional press, and an interested public.
The law is hardly a set of statutes. It's comprised of thousands of judicial opinions interpreting the code and articulating specific doctrines. Court made law is especially important in criminal law. It has nothing in common with reading a construction blueprint. It's honestly horrifying that there are people with legal authority that have no training applying the law.
Small claims court (the name varies depending on the state, but we're talking about 'Judge Judy' type courts here) is for the quick resolution of minor disputes. In most states, the formal rules of evidence don't apply.
And, in nearly all the states, one can appeal de novo the court's judgment to a 'real' court.
My state recently implemented a requirement that these lower court judges have law degrees. The quality of the court ha suffered... instead of a retired businessperson who has an interest in his community, we end up with incompetent lawyers who can't make a living in private practice. Or, worse, some person straight out of lawschool with zero legal or life experience.
Simply untrue in common law countries (e.g. the US). Criminal law is absolutely driven by judicial opinions and statutory interpretation.
> In most states, the formal rules of evidence don't apply.
This isn't about evidence. It's about interpreting many doctrines that vary wildly between states. A single statute (re: defenses, attempt, conspiracy, the requisite mens rea to hold someone liable) can yield totally different interpretations.
It's against the site rules to be rude in comments here. Would you mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and sticking to the rules? When someone else is wrong, it's a great help to provide correct information, but please don't break the guidelines while doing so.
Your comment would be just fine without those first two sentences.
I have no idea how comparatively complex the law is. But that is hardly a justification for having less training. The potential for harm is the most important factor. That is why you have highly trained engineers or architects (for example). Because mistakes can destroy lives. I think the same should apply to judgeships
Nothing more than a high school education.
> Shortly after the ACLU filed its lawsuit, South Carolina’s chief justice sent a scolding memo to the state’s magistrates. “It has continually come to my attention that defendants, who are neither represented by counsel nor have waived counsel, are being sentenced to imprisonment,” [chief justice] Beatty wrote in the September 2017 memo. “This is a clear violation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and numerous opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Degrees might be a reasonable proxy for general intelligence which is nice to have in a judge, but so is popular support. We already let any fool off the street write the law, they should also be qualified to interpret the law.
The problem with this is that our system is built on literally centuries of case law, in addition to all the legislation. Fools off the street don't know any of that stuff. Are we going to wait around while they spend weeks doing the research for every case?
We already let any fool off the street write the law
Foolish legislators often have their laws struck down for being unconstitutional. If we're going to let fools also be judges, then the inmates are running the asylum and we might as well not have a constitution at all.
Elected judges are entirely the opposite.
It sounds like the entire judicial branch of the United States has become politicized. That’s really unfortunate. It’s not the case in other countries.
Take a look at the backgrounds of the judges who are appointed and tell me it’s not partisan in Canada.
Usually the liberals appoint judges with close Liberal Party ties and the same with the conservatives.
Most places outside of NYC prefer to have elected judges “town/village justices” for revenue purposes. Basically, they plea down as many state violations as possible to local ordinances, as more of the fines go to the towns instead of the state.
This is ironic for a conservative state because it's indistinguishable to me from Soviet communism. I can't help but think about this scene from Chernobyl (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idb_qsAAe1c) which illustrates the true tragedy of this broken system. Emma Goldman wrote in "My Disillusionment in Russia" (1923):
> Bourgeois dictatorship is replaced by the "dictatorship of the proletariat" — or by that of its "advance guard," the Communist Party. Lenin takes the seat of the Romanovs, the Imperial Cabinet is rechristened Soviet of People's Commissars, Trotsky is appointed Minister of War, and a labourer becomes the Military Governor General of Moscow. That is, in essence, the Bolshevik conception of revolution, as translated into actual practice.
Maybe it's time for you to read up on Soviet communism?
This is not how they killed 20m of their own citizens.
> To better understand this system, The Post and Courier and ProPublica examined thousands of state records and compiled profiles of all 319 South Carolina magistrates. A reporter also visited courtrooms and interviewed legal experts, lawyers, lawmakers and defendants. Among the findings:
> Nearly three-quarters of the state’s magistrates lack a legal degree and couldn’t represent someone in a court of law.
> A loophole in state law has allowed a quarter of South Carolina’s magistrates to remain on the bench after their terms expired, letting them escape the scrutiny of a reappointment process. One controversial magistrate continues to hold court two decades after her four-year term ended.
I am currently in the final year of a law degree. When I started my degree, I already had degrees in medicine and information technology, and I'd just founded my third startup.
Despite the legal exposure I'd already obtained as a doctor and entrepreneur, it was humbling to realize just how much about the law I didn't know - not just in terms of actual laws, but also in terms of interpretation of the law as a technical discipline.
For sure, if I'd been appointed as a judge with only my (pre-law degree) experience, I'd have messed up in all sorts of basic and fundamental ways.
Isn't that what "representatives" are for?
That is why I say based on the look and feel of western law, judges are proxies for the people, and not some paragon of legal competency.