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Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
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Frank Bernheisel
Posted 06.07.10
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL

Judging the judges

There are 33 states in the U.S. that elect state judges. Youse got a problem wit dat? Yes, a few. For one thing, the opportunity for corruption is high.

Take the recent case in West Virginia. Harman Mining argued that West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Brent Benjamin had a clear conflict of interest in presiding over the appeal of their case against Massey Energy because of CEO Don Blankenship's aid in a $3.5 million advertising campaign that helped win Benjamin's election. The subject of Massey and Don Blankenship's relationship to Benjamin and another justice was the subject of an ABC News investigation.

Despite numerous requests for his recusal, Justice Brent Benjamin stayed on the Harman case and twice voted in favor of Massey Energy. Benjamin wrote in court documents that there is no evidence to suggest that he cannot be fair and impartial.

Really, $3.5 million doesn't buy what it used to.

A second thing is that groups with a political agenda will buy judgeships so that they can interpret laws from the point of view of their agenda.

Currently in California, a group of conservative attorneys are on a mission from God to unseat four California judges in the next election. The four San Diego Superior Court candidates are pledging that if they are elected they will represent God in the courtroom.

They are backed by pastors, gun enthusiasts, and opponents of abortion and same-sex marriages.

"We believe our country is under assault and needs Christian values," said Craig Candelore, a family law attorney who is one of the group's candidates. "Unfortunately, God has called upon us to do this only with the judiciary."

Aren't judges supposed to be impartial? Separation of church and state becomes California's own version of Sharia law.

Third, most Americans cannot even name any members of the U.S. Supreme Court, much less lower courts.

According to a new national survey by FindLaw.com. Even with a big battle shaping up over Elena Kagan confirmation, only 35 percent of Americans can name even one member of the nation's highest court.

According to the FindLaw.com survey, the percentages of Americans who can name the U.S. Supreme Court justices are:

Clarence Thomas - 19percent
John Roberts - 16percent
Sonia Sotomayor - 15percent
Ruth Bader Ginsburg - 13percent
Antonin Scalia - 10percent
Samuel Alito - 8percent
John Paul Stevens - 8percent
Anthony Kennedy - 6percent
Stephen Breyer - 3percent

Only one percent of Americans could correctly name all nine current members of the Supreme Court.

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