History

How Corrupt Is America's Judicial System?

Almost 50% of Americans believe that the US judicial system is corrupt. So why are US judges so corrupt?

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A recent watchdog report found that almost half of Americans polled believe that the U.S. justice system is corrupt. Many who hold this belief likely turn to a host of recent scandals involving judges being bribed. In the early 2000s, two Pennsylvania judges sent thousands of minors to a juvenile detention center and received cash favors from the center operators in return. In a 2004 case, a judge was appointed to serve, largely bolstered by financial support of a big insurance agency. Federal investigators opened an investigation when that judge overturned a billion dollar lawsuit against the agency. More recently, in 2013, a Texas state judge was convicted for taking more than $250,000 in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for favorable rulings. Altogether, research indicated that some 2.5 million bribes are paid each year within the U.S. Justice System, according to Pew Research, Yale Law School, and other sources.

Why is this? Although federal judges and Supreme Court justices hold office for life, many judges are elected and can be subject to the same forces as politicians: special interests, bribery, etc. It's relatively uncommon for a judge's opinion to get opposed, although some judges get heavily criticized for letting their personal and political beliefs interfere with their decisions. For instance, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore has garnered national attention for defying rulings from higher courts. This year, he ordered state officials to refuse the issuing of same-sex marriage licenses, despite the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized such unions.

This is not meant to raise an alarmist point of view. The vast majority of judges are upstanding public servants. Still, it's worth looking at the very important position judges hold in our legal system and greater society.

Learn More:
Chart of the Week: The wide world of bribery (pewresearch.org)
"Every year, Transparency International asks people around the world about their experiences with public corruption - more than 114,000 in 107 countries for their latest 'Global Corruption Barometer.'"

Global Corruption Barometer (transparency.org)
"United States: Over the past two years how has the level of corruption in this country/territory changed?"

Corruption in Our Courts: What It Looks Like and Where It Is Hidden (yalelawjournal.org)
"Recent surveys and events indicate that judicial corruption could be a significant problem in the United States."