Tough on Crime: How Campaigns for State Judiciary Violate Defendants’ Due Process Rights
Joanna Cohn Weiss
Elected judges often run “tough on crime” campaigns, which raises concerns that they will be biased against criminal defendants once on the bench. Indeed, studies show that elected judges give harsher punishments to criminal defendants as elections near. Nevertheless, in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, the Supreme Court found that an elected judge can still be considered impartial even if he knows that his decisions throughout a case might affect his job security. This Note argues that the Supreme Court’s decision in White failed to account for a key factor complicating the election of unbiased judges: media coverage of crime and elections. The media dynamics at work in elections and the particular way judges respond to them may lead to criminal cases being heard by judges who are biased against defendants. To correct this problem, states must affirmatively act to protect criminal defendants’ right to a fair trial by adopting broad recusal requirements. States must change their codes of judicial conduct to allow for mandatory recusal of judges who run tough-on-crime election campaigns.