Class 8: Judges

Central to the rule of law is a fair and impartial arbiter, the judge, who makes decisions based on the law and not personal prejudices, political considerations, or what may be popular at the moment. We examine issues of racial bias of judges and the remedies, or lack thereof, for such bias. We also look at a practice peculiar to the United States – the election of judges in many states. We see how elections can affect judges, and use some examples of televised judicial campaign ads to examine the role of rulings in criminal cases in judicial campaigns. Prof. Bright also talks to Justice Penny White, who served as a Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court until 1996. Justice White was voted out of office in a retention election after a campaign against her based mostly on the Court’s decision reversing a death sentence. Justice White discusses judicial independence and the influence of interest groups on the justice system.


Judges (PDF), including:

I. The Right to an Impartial Judge

  • Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78 (1935)
  • Note on cases involving pecuniary interest, the temptation not to hold the balance “nice, clear and true,” and the “appearance of impartiality”
  • Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540 (1994)
  • People v. Strum, 129 P.3d 10 (Cal. 2006)

II. Issues of Impartiality

  • Racial Prejudice
    • Peek v. State, 488 So.2d 52 (Fla. 1986)
    • State v. Smulls, 935 S.W.2d 9 (Mo. 1996)
    • State v. Kinder, 942 S.W.2d 313 (Mo. 1996)
    • Judge White’s nomination for a federal judgeship
  • Political Pressures
    • 134 S.Ct. 405 (2013) (Sotomayor, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari)
    • Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Peter Bard
    • State of Tennessee v. Odom, 928 S.W.2d 18 (1996)
    • Tennessee Conservative Union Campaign letter
    • JUST SAY NO to Penny White
    • Challenge to Tennessee Justices Fails in 2014
    • Texas Judge Rejected Post-5 P.M. Death Row Appeal
    • State of South Carolina v. Colin J. Broughton
    • The Influence of Drugs

III. The Contempt Power

  • Discussion of Taylor v. Hayes, 418 U.S. 488 (1974), and other cases on contempt.
 Recommended Reading:

Interview of Penny White:


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