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South Carolina judges often lack formal training in the law (propublica.org)
158 points by vo2maxer 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 111 comments





>Their ranks include a Greenville lawyer appointed to the bench after siphoning thousands of dollars from accounts he managed;

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: https://www.npr.org/2019/11/14/779339897/3-indiana-judges-su...

Here's another one: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/06/29/pneumatic_judge/

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:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_nullification


i don't agree with everything you said, but i do find it peculiar that lawyers are paid to make things worse (that is, get in the middle of arguments and escalate them). the more they escalate, the more they get paid. it seems like the worst kind of misaligned incentive.

Even to the Supreme court I thought the President could nominate anyone irrespective of their qualifications, no prior experience as a lawyer or a judge is mandated.

The problem here is less the lack of experience but rather that many of these judges are routinely violating the law and the Constitution. We cannot have a functional legal system if judges do not follow the law.

Judges interpret the law. The law and Constitution are not written in C (and even if they were, we all know that every compiler has "undefined behavior" that may need to be adjudicated) and we occasionally need a court system to resolve disputes and clarify legal ambiguities.

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.


> Judges interpret the law.

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.


It is possible for competent programmers to interpret a vaguely written specification in mutually incompatible ways.

Yes, although the judges in the OP do not sound analogous to competent programmers in this example. One would expect someone trained in software to interpret software, in the same way one would expect someone trained in law to interpret law.

I find it hard to believe that programmers could disagree with eachother.

>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.

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.


While your statement is technically correct, it does not address the issue.

You are correct. In every case so far, SCOTUS Justices have been attorneys by profession, but as the internet makes it much easier to research law and legal precedents, it might be interesting to see what happens if someone with a different background joins that club.

That is only true of living justices. A number of SCOTUS justices in the past had no legal backgrounds whatsoever, with the last such judge serving until 1957.

> A number of SCOTUS justices in the past had no legal backgrounds whatsoever, with the last such judge serving until 1957.

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. [0]

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."

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_law_schools_attended_b...


This is probably why 2 separate judges upheld a cops decision to arrest me for using bad language while walking away from officer that had been harassing me as I was walking home from work.

The law in SC is literally that bad language on the public road is a crime. They ignored 2 pages of precedents.


>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?


After being stopped for no reason several times and held while they take their time "running my license" AFTER they were done with the latest nonsense I said "am I free to go" , they said "yes" , I walked off. When about 15 feet away and walking away at a normal pace I said clearly and calmly "fuck off then" they arrested me for saying the word fuck.

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

https://littlevillagemag.com/federal-appeals-court-rules-say...

However this has been a settled matter for decades which police keep ignoring.


Are there many places that have elected judges?

Why not require law degrees? It’s not like “elected” must mean “can’t require qualifications”?


It’s one of the stranger things about the US. Electing not just judges but also coroners and sheriffs and prosecutors.

To be fair, with coroners it's more out of necessity than anything. One of the counties next to mine has few coroners and it's something of a problem, as you can imagine. We recently had a friend die and the coroner's report is still not complete, three weeks later. We still don't know what the cause of death is, and as it's suspected to to be a suicide, it's not been a fun time waiting for the results to come out. An elected coroner could relieve the burden by preforming reports on 'mundane' deaths and leave the more complicated cases to more experienced people. Again, it's not a good solution by any means, but it's a better solution than the one they have currently.

But why elected rather than hired? It’s supposed to be a mostly scientific job with no agenda.

Because it is difficult to get people that are so well trained to work in that county, yet the work needs to be done. Many counties require that a coroner be a licensed MD with training/experience in the coroner's office. These costs necessitate a high salary to pay off such educational investments and also due to supply and demand. That particular county is very poor and there is little to attract such caliber of people outside of money. Money that largely does not exist. So, one solution is to take anyone that will volunteer for the job. One way to sugarcoat this is to elect the coroner and make it seem like 'the people' have taken this risk upon themselves. Sure, many elected coroners are well trained and very good at their jobs. But those people are not the issue. Having massively undertrained people do this job is glaringly stupid on just so many levels, but what other option exists? The job market has spoken.

Same things can be said about practically any professional job. If the job is required, it should pay market salary, as it does in essentially every other profession.

Why not elect system administrators? Everything you mention is true of them in many places as well.


I mean, I'm not arguing for this method, it is obviously crazy and has contributed to a lot of issues in other parts of the country [0]. I'm just giving the rationale I have heard from others.

[0] https://www.newsweek.com/2016/10/28/teen-suicide-contagious-...


It's really weird to me to see US reporting on suicide.

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.


Thanks, appreciate your response, though I must say it sounds like a post-factum rationalization to an existing practice, and not the real reason it got this way.

Prestige of being an elected office might draw more candidates to an otherwise undesirable job

I would argue that we'd be better off not electing the prestige seeking people. We want the best person for the job, not someone viewing high offices as a prize.

It might also draw candidates who are better at running a campaign than at doing the work - in fact, it is most likely.

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.


Neither judges or coroners are elected in all states. Prosecutors are almost everywhere.

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.


More often than not, the Sheriff is the highest lawman in the county. Police chiefs work for metros. Like we have the NYPD, but there are also the Kings County Sheriff

I actually think the most troubling aspect of elected judges is the amount of money they have to raise every few years just to keep their job. I suppose this isn't all that different from technical fields (PI's have to write grant proposals, entrepreneurs have to give pitches) so maybe its not that big of a deal.

How do they do that without accepting money from either local business or individuals (which would be problematic as soon as those individuals or businesses find themselves in court)?

My understanding is they do accept money from local businesses and individuals. Perhaps it is no more or less problematic than a PI publishing something a sponsor doesn’t like or a startup disrupting another company in the same VC portfolio.

EDIT: John Oliver did a bit on this a few years back. Access may be restricted outside USA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poL7l-Uk3I8


This also applies to law enforcement. Many small towns have elected sheriff’s (or police captains or whatever they call them locally). How is that right? Sure, maybe they have to convince a county DA that there was a crime for actual prosecution, but the number of areas they could abuse their power before (or completely without) charges is insane.

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...


I think the idea is that the electorate has the responsibility of making sure office holders are qualified. If a small town decides that someone with no law enforcement experience is the most qualified candidate to be sheriff, then that is their choice.

> How is that right?

It's democracy. It has its pros and cons.


At heart, if the law is so complicated that only a trained professional can interpret it then it is unreasonable to ask people to follow the law. The people vote for the law so it isn't actually that obvious why their voice should then be abstracted away and filtered out from enforcing and interpreting the law.

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.


I like your argument. I'll offer a different view, but I want to emphasize upfront that I'm not disagreeing with you.

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.


This is like expecting physics, engineering, or medicine to be simple.

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.


Britain’s lower courts are presided by magistrates. There isn’t even an election. It’s a simple interview and a application form.

https://www.gov.uk/become-magistrate/apply-to-be-a-magistrat...

While there are supposedly checks on their powers, abuses though sheer incompetence happen.


However, all Magistrate Courts have a Clerk to the Justices who is qualified and advises the magistrates on the law at hearings and handles other court functions.

"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"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justices%27_clerk


The Wisconsin Supreme Court is elected.

How is this different than being judged by a drunk king based on his whims? It's not at all. So what happened to rule by law? How does such a system exist? How does it have supporters? This is perplexing. Sure justice is not valued at all in American culture but do south Carolinians not care at all about justice or having a civil society? It is beyond appalling to give stupid idiots (and there's no kinder way to describe someone with no legal training acting as a judge) power over others based on whatever they feel like doing since there is no legal framework in place.

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?


All of your questions can be answered by the fact that South Carolina today and historically has been an extremely authoritarian state.

This is common in CA too, apparently.

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.


When Governor Brown appointed Rose Bird to be Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, she had never been a judge at any level -- not even municipal, or traffic court.

I've often wondered why they don't teach the law in grade school or high school, since it is (in theory) supposed to be known and followed by everyone. The best answer I have so far is that education is in the public sector too so it's subject to similar problems with lack of training and inflexibility.

>Over the years, their numbers have included construction workers, insurance agents, pharmacists — even an underwear distributor.

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.


The point is pharmacists have 0 legal training.

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.


> 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.


This conversation is a perfect illustration of the difference between a significant part of US culture and that of many other western nations.

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.


This is South Carolina, which has never really been a fan of the equal protection that's supposed to be provided by the US Constitution.

Look, I don't disagree with you. I agree that electing judges is stupid. Nonetheless, for better or worse, this is the result of democracy.

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.


How are you jumping from judges not having legal training, to Jim Crow literacy tests?

Jumping? I'm not jumping, I'm applying the principle that people who have influence over the application of the law should have some training. If judges need special training, why not legislators? And if both judges and legislators need special training, why not citizens? Note that we already do apply this principle to naturalized citizens! It is only people who acquired their citizenship by birth who never need to show any competence at anything in order to vote.

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.


There is nothing "logical" about your extending the idea that judges should not have to have legal training before sentencing people to jail. Not to mention, legislators are kept in check by another branch of government which can strike down laws created by legislature. The indigent and commoners hauled before these magistrates are granted no such meaningful review.

Not so. Judges can be impeached by the legislature and recalled by the voters. And there are appeals.

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.


> Yes, that's what democracy is

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.


> It's perfectly reasonable in our democracy to expect judges to be trained in law in order to effectively do their jobs.

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.


> 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 [1], 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 [2], but federal legislation again seems far away.

[1] https://apnews.com/8eb58810be2642b3a2c81e9da247ff80

[2] https://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2017/oct/03/...


Yes, that's true, because the U.S. is not a direct democracy, so a vocal and motivated minority can wield a disproportionate influence over policy. But I don't see a lot of people marching in the streets to change the way judges are chosen.

No, it does not mean that it seems unreasonable to the majority. Just that it isn't important enough to the majority to effectively influence policy. Laws do not perfectly mirror what the overall population thinks would be best.

> The point is pharmacists have 0 legal training.

Sounds a lot like 1/12th of a jury.


Every jury trial has a legally trained (hopefully) judge to assist the jury with the legal aspects of the case.

Jury trials also have jury selection processes that allow lawyers from both sides to eliminate any poorly qualified jurors.


Judges have minimal training in the procedures of the court. Some are attorneys which gives them more familiarity with law and process, but as far as I know that’s not a requirement.

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.


The lack of legal training is exactly the issue at hand.

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.


Except for appeal. If a judge gets overturned enough on appeal, they can rightly be said to be unreliable. Which means, if they're elected to the position, their opponent can site how many times they got overturned as a legitimate reason to think they're bad at their job.

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.


> ...are all much more complex than the laws governing the cases that come before these low-level courts.

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.


Criminal law is literally a set of statutes.

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.


> Criminal law is literally a set of statutes.

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.


[flagged]


> You are clearly not a lawyer. Stay within your own lane.

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.


This is my lane.

I think the point is rather that they are not lawyers.

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


You should see some of the elected judges here. PA.

Nothing more than a high school education.


[flagged]


Please don't post nationalistic or regional flamebait to HN. It leads to flamewars which we don't want here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


[flagged]


This is not an example of judges making political rulings that some people dislike. It's an example of judges failing to follow clear-cut basic rules.

> 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.”


All modern democracies are run by bureaucrats and unelected civil servants. At the very top levels, you have elected officials and their political appointees. Those people provide high level leadership and set priorities. However, almost all of the actual work of governance is done by the people below them: the career civil servents.

That’s the expectation, but outsourcing means modern democracy is in large part run by for profit companies. Law enforcement traffic cameras are a great example of this with layers of separation between voting and implementation. More insidious is border agents depending on outsourced software to screen people. In theory government agents are in charge, in practice it’s more nuanced.

These judges are appointed, not elected, so they’re still “bureaucrats”.

Democracy is a scheme to keep masses in check by giving them illusion of power. If a politician starts promising people to give them what they actually want it is called "populism" and said politician will become a pariah, painted as irresponsible, crazy, etc.

Rightfully so, as they won't be able to actually afford or pass what they promise without destroying some part of the economy.

Voters would think harder about what they vote for if their votes were effective instead of being ignored like children.

I can't imagine someone with such a cynical outlook being happy with direct rule by the masses.

If Democracy is the illusion of rule by the people, what is actual rule of the people?

Anything that works at the scale of up a few hundred people, or low thousands at most.

That's an awfully long name. I'll stick to "Democracy". The etymology makes more sense too.

what's your recommended alternative?

The fact that there are no alternatives to something doesn't make it good.

But it does make it best.

Also makes it a pointless exercise to question it.

The first step to solving a problem is recognising there is one. Who knows, perhaps we will come up with something that's better than democracy one day. It's good to explore alternatives.

Title should be adjusted to “Some South Carolina Judges..”

No it shouldn't. Every state has elected judge positions, and they only require being able to win an election. In my home state of PA a local magistrate was caught by the FBI trying to fix cases of people who appealed her judgments, was removed from the bench for 6 months, and still ran for reelection unopposed. The people we let get elected to judicial positions is scary.

Judges shouldn’t be elected at all, they should be appointed in a non partisan process, from a pool of experienced and respected lawyers.

That is by construction a partisan process, with the outcome matching politics of the median lawyer, instead of the median voter.

You want medical practice dispensed by the median doctor not the median patient. The median voter already sits on juries.

But the only similarity between a judge and a doctor is they both traditionally require degrees. If we accept that a judge doesn't need a degree then there is no comparison to a doctor. Ie, that is probably a form of circular reasoning.

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.


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.


Partisanship is a state of mind moreso than a formal system. Judicial appointments in Canada are non partisan. The politicians who appoint them are operating under the principle of “who would be the best judge from among these candidates” rather than who is my closest ally.

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.


That's a result of how the federal/state constitutions here work. Judges don't matter as much if Parliament is sovereign.

Judicial appointments in Canada are non partisan.

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.


New York does this in NYC for traffic court... they use administrative law judges who are civil service employees to adjudicate traffic violations.

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.


The law is supposed to be relatable and human. It is already twisted enough as it is, I would hate to see it under that kind of system.

So in other words, you would hate to see the legal system in Canada? Because that’s how it is here. We don’t elect judges at any level. We seem to be getting along just fine.

> Over the years, their numbers have included construction workers, insurance agents, pharmacists — even an underwear distributor.

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.


> it's indistinguishable to me from Soviet communism

Maybe it's time for you to read up on Soviet communism?

This is not how they killed 20m of their own citizens.


Judges are "meant" to be representatives of the people, not clerics of the law who must undergo institutional evaluation and approval. That is why they are elected or appointed, as opposed to merited by some competitive process which sieves for competence. Still,

> 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.


My two cents: given the breadth and complexity of modern law, a legal degree (or at least, a bar certification to practice law) should be mandatory for any judicial appointee.

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.


> Judges are "meant" to be representatives of the people

Isn't that what "representatives" are for?


Yes, and judges are either appointed by your representatives or elected directly. Does that smell like a process which coldly sieves for legal competency, or a proxy for the will and moral style of the people?

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.




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