Corruption and Judicial Independence

Materials  |  Audio  |  Poll  | Links to Principles of DemocrayResources 


Should our democracy elect judges?

Blind Justice: Justice that is fair because it is neutral and objective. It weighs facts and law, but is “blind” to the relative wealth, status, or identity of those facing judgment. This concept comes from ancient Rome, where the goddess of justice, Justitia, was often depicted holding a set of scales and wearing a blindfold. But what happens when the system of justice is corrupted by outside influences? As John Wester observes, “All it takes is one bad judge to create enormous human misery.”

Materials (pdf)

Corruption and Judicial Independence Lesson:








Links to Principles of Democracy

The nature of democracy changes and grows along with its citizenry, but it’s always based on principles that help citizens modify, uphold, and strengthen their democracy. Visit the DDA Democratic Principles and Activities page to learn more about the principles underlying democracy and gain access to activities that help students understand the complexity of democracy. 

We’ve identified some democratic principles addressed in this lesson “Should our democracy elect judges?”  What principles might you add to the list below?

Please here for a pdf of the fourteen principles handout on our Democratic Principles & Activities page.


Control of the Abuse of Power

Control of the Abuse of Power
One of the most common abuses of power is corruption, which occurs when government officials use public funds for their own benefit or they exercise power in an illegal way.  To protect against these abuses, democratic governments are often structured to limit the powers of government offices and the people who work for them.  For example, the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government have distinct functions and can “check and balance” the powers of other branches.  In addition, independent agencies can investigate and impartial courts can punish government leaders and employees who abuse power.

Independent Judiciary
independentjudiciaryIndependent Judiciary
In democracies courts and the judicial system are impartial.  Judges and the judiciary branch must be free to act without influence or control from the executive and legislative branches of government.  They should also not be corrupt or obligated to influential individuals, businesses, or political groups.  These ideas are related to the rule of law and to controlling the abuse of power.  An independent judiciary is essential to a just and fair legal system.

The Rule of Law
ruleoflawThe Rule of Law 
In a democracy no one is above the law—not even a king, elected president, police officer, or member of the military.  Everyone must obey the law and will be held accountable if they violate it. Democracy also insists that laws are equally, fairly, and consistently enforced.


Selected Resources

Christiansen, Rob, "Perdue Creates Panel to Advise on Judicial Nominees,” News and Observer (April 6, 2011), (accessed July 14, 2011).

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 558 U.S. 08-205, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010).

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, SCOTUSBLOG (2010), July 14, 2011).

Cohen, Andrew, "The Case Against Judicial Elections: Keep Politics Out of the Law,” Politics Daily (June 6, 2010), (accessed July 10, 2011).

Country Reports (Freedom House, 2007), (accessed July 14,

DeBow, Michael, Diane Brey, et al., The Case for Partisan Judicial Elections (: The Federalist Society, January 1, 2003), (accessed July 10, 2011).

"Editorial: Can Justice Be Bought?” New York Times (June 15, 2011), (accessed July 20, 2011).

Global Integrity Report (Global Integrity, 2004-2010), (accessed July 14, 2011).

"Illinois Judge Is Sentenced to 12 Years for Conviction of Judicial Corruption,” Chicago Tribune (August 28, 1985),,6478540&dq=judicial-corruption&hl=en (accessed July 14, 2011).

"Judicial Commission Suspends Competition Following Corruption Allegations,” Andean Air Mail & Peruvian Times (February 23, 2010), (accessed July 7, 2011).

"Judicial Elections Have Consequences, Especially If You Are Injured,” The Pop Tort (Center for Justice & Democracy, March 24, 2010), (accessed July 14, 2011).

"Justice for Sale,” Frontline (WGBH, November 1999), (accessed July 14, 2011).

Justiciabarómetro: Survey of Judges, Prosecutors, and Public Defenders in Nine Mexican States (Justice in Mexico Project, 2011), (accessed July 14, 2011).

"La Importante Misión del CNM: Por una Eficiente Administración de Justicia en el Perú,” El Peruano (March 24, 2011), (accessed July 14,

Latin America and the Caribbean, Rule of Law Initiative (American Bar Association, n.d.), (accessed July 14, 2011).

"Law 29703 Comes Under Fire for Being "Pro-corruption,” Andean AirMail & Peruvian Times (June 15, 2011), (June 15, 2011), (accessed July 14, 2011).

"Me Enviaron a Prisión Para Que Nadie Más Acuse a Vocales Corruptos de la Suprema," La Republica Peru (September 4, 2008), (accessed July 14, 2011).

Pitarque, Juan Pablo, An Armed Forces Anomaly: Key Ingredients to Ecuador’s Democratic Consistency (Washington, DC: Council on Hemispheric Affairs, August 4, 2010), (accessed July 9, 2011).

Reuters, "World News Briefs: Colombia Law Official Surrenders in Bribe Case,” The New York Times. (May 4, 1996), (accessed July 9, 2011).

S.K. "A Cure Worse Than The Disease,” The Economist (February 25, 2011), (accessed July 10, 2011).

State Judicial Elections (Brennan Center for Justice, n.d.), (accessed July 20, 2011).