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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin | Winter 2014

Judicial Elections Lloyd W. Gathings Alabama Judicial Elections Mandated In 1875 – How Times Have Changed Since! Article VI, Sec. 12 of the Alabama Constitution of 1875 mandated that “t he chief justice and associate justices of the supreme court, judges of the circuit courts, and chancellors shall be elected by the qualifi ed electors of the state, circuits, counties and chancery divisions.” Th e selection of judges by election was carried forward into the 1901 constitution: “All judges shall be elected by vote of the electors within the territorial jurisdiction of their respective courts.” (It is signifi cant that neither constitution required partisan elections.) While we still elect our judges over 100 years later, we have seen a lot of signifi cant changes to our electoral process and our state since the 1901 constitutional convention. Some of these changes may or may not have aff ected the wisdom of judicial elections or the procedures used for those elections. A number of these changes will be highlighted in this article for the reader’s own consideration of what eff ect these changes may have had on judicial elections. In 1910, when our last constitution had been in eff ect for almost a decade, Alabama’s population was 2,138,093. Th e 2013 estimate of Alabama’s population was 4,833,722 – more than a two-fold increase. In 1910 the Alabama urban population was 370,431. In 2013 Jeff erson County alone had a population of 659, 479. Shelby County was at 204,180. Th e two counties together have a population of 863,659 –2.33 times the urban population in 1901. Because Alabama’s population has increased greatly, as well as the increase in the urbanization of Alabama, the questions arise – Do the registered voters have the personal knowledge of judicial candidates to select them by an educated choice? When the population was smaller and more rural, as it was in 1901, were the voters able to know more about the judicial candidates? Has the sheer increase in the number of judges due to the increase in population reduced the ability of the voters to know the qualifi cations of the candidates? How has technology and the cost of technology aff ected judicial elections? At the time the 1901 constitution was ratifi ed, the fi rst radio audio broadcast had not occurred. Th e fi rst broadcast was in Brant Rock, Massachusetts in 1906. Th e fi rst the moon and our laptops today. Our laptops are overwhelmingly superior. Would astronauts today really do hand calculations as we saw in the Apollo 13 movie starring Tom Hanks? Finally, what eff ect has the internet had on judicial elections? Emails were fi rst used in a Presidential election in 1976, when Jimmy Carter emailed Walter Mondale about campaign events. Th e fi rst time the term “internet” was used was 1982. Th e domain name system came into eff ect in 1984. So the question arises: Are today’s voters more knowledgeable and sophisticated about judicial candidates because of technology than they were in 1901? Th e trend in expenditures for judicial elections television had not been sold in the United States—that occurred in 1928. Telephone service was in its infancy in 1901. Th e best I can tell from researching the web, cellular service had not even been imagined. Comparisons have been made between the computers used to send man to would probably argue against that con- 30 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin | Winter 2014
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