Gresham’s Law is usually rendered “bad money drives out good.” Grisham’s Law–John Grisham, that is, author of such over-the-top legal romances as The Firm–might be stated as “bad fiction drives out good sense.” Grisham’s latest, The Appeal, has a plot improbable enough to make Alexandre Dumas blush, but it has struck a chord with critics of elected state judiciaries who see corruption wherever they look. Today in the Wall Street Journal, James Sample of NYU’s Brennan Center makes the case for “[r]eforms rang[ing] from commission-based appointment systems, to publicly financed campaigns, to more rigorous recusal rules.”
Tightening up recusal standards might be a good idea. Public financing of campaigns, on the other hand, is antithetical to electoral competition in a free democracy. But I suspect that Sample is really a fan of the “merit selection” method employing commissions to choose judges. In that case, it’s too bad for Sample that the virtues of that idea were debunked just two days ago in the pages of the Journal by columnist Collin Levy, who cites “a 2007 Harvard study [that] actually found that judges who are elected directly by voters are overall less corrupt than those who win their robes through other methods of selection.” The so-called “merit selection” system, Levy cogently argues, is actually tailor-made for maximizing the influence of the highly interested trial lawyer community.