Say the words “judicial selection” to average Americans, and their eyes may very well glaze over. But tell them the story of Wendy Baggett ‒ a woman whose three-day-old baby died because her doctor neglected to take her off of blood pressure medication during her pregnancy ‒ and a spark of concern may appear in those dull pupils. Then explain that a jury sided with Baggett in her medical malpractice claim against the doctor, only to be overturned by business-backed judges on the Alabama Supreme Court, and that concern may transform into shock, curiosity and perhaps, eventually, action.
It’s well understood that telling human stories is more effective than talking about political, economic or societal problems in the abstract. That’s why Life of the Law, a bi-weekly podcast series, focuses on compelling, human-driven stories instead of merely analyzing legal arguments and dissecting Supreme Court rulings.
The story of Baggett is a true one, used to exemplify how the practice of electing judges affects people from all walks of life. As explained in the podcast, in states where judges are forced to campaign for the bench, courts are becoming increasingly hostile to tort plaintiffs and to criminal defendants. This makes sense; campaigns cost money, business interests have plentiful funds from which to donate, and judges, whether consciously or unconsciously, tend to side with the interests of those who helped them win their increasingly expensive elections. (In criminal cases, judges are often attacked by their business-backed opponents for being “soft on crime” when they side with defendants, merely because it’s an easy attack.)