The New York Bar and Reform of the Elected Judiciary after the Civil War

96 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2005

See all articles by Renee Lettow Lerner

Renee Lettow Lerner

George Washington University Law School

Date Written: April 4, 2005

Abstract

This paper deals with the history of America's other peculiar institution: the elected judiciary. Elected judges are found virtually nowhere else in the world, but in America they are a fact of life in the considerable majority of states. The history of the elected judiciary is surprisingly little explored. This paper examines the post-Civil War trend away from Jacksonian populism and toward a more aristocratic view of the judiciary as a body set apart from the people. After the Civil War, many states, including New York, lengthened terms of office for their elected judges; some states even switched back to an appointive system. In New York, this reform was sparked by a perception of rampant corruption among New York City judges. The paper delves into the little-understood areas of how elected judges were nominated and how they campaigned in the late nineteenth century. The judicial elections process is set against the social backdrop of massive immigration into New York City and the resulting rise of the Tweed Ring. The paper describes the Ring's corruption of key members of the judiciary, together with the ethnic rancor ignited by allegations of judicial corruption. Leading the judicial reform efforts were members of the elite bar. The paper discusses the backgrounds of elite lawyers and their role in lengthening judicial terms and in founding the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. The Association proved active in working to impeach the most notorious judges of the Tammany Hall Ring. For some time, many worried that the lack of a sound judiciary would cause New York's newly burgeoning economy to collapse, much like the difficulties a corrupt judiciary poses in developing countries today. In the end, New York was able to reform the judiciary sufficiently that persons and property were reasonably secure, and New York's rise to commercial prominence could continue.

Keywords: judicial elections, reform of judiciary, judicial corruption, New York judiciary, New York judges, New York bar, Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Tammany Hall, New York constitutional convention of 1867-68

JEL Classification: K40, K41, K42, K49, N41

Suggested Citation

Lerner, Renee Lettow, The New York Bar and Reform of the Elected Judiciary after the Civil War (April 4, 2005). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=697902 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.697902

Renee Lettow Lerner (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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