In order to make impartial and well reasoned rulings, the judges in any judicial system must display two characteristics: independence and capability. These are the same criteria used to evaluate the judicial system overall in order to assess the ability of the system to deliver justice.
The independence of judges and justices is perhaps most closely related to their ability to deliver just, unbiased rulings. Judges' own personal ideas and perceptions cannot be completely removed from their rulings. However, it is possible to reduce considerably the impact of any other influences, such as judges' personal economic interests.
Also, it is critical that judges have the basic experience and intellectual capacity to adjudicate issues that are often extremely complex. Intellectual capacity has two related components: powers of logical reasoning and the ability to perceive subtleties and nuance.
Some people believe that accountability is also a critical criterion for evaluating the judicial branch. They argue that judges, just like our other public officials, must be held accountable for their decisions and actions. More specifically, some mechanism for removing or replacing judges is thought to be critical to ensuring justice.
To some degree, independence and accountability are contradictory goals, because accountability necessarily imposes some limits on independence. In Texas, these contradictory goals crystallize in judicial elections. Texas is among the few states that use partisan elections to select judges at all levels of the court system. While appointments are made at various levels to fill vacancies between elections, the central question in evaluating the selection process in Texas is how the partisanship and need to appeal to voters can be reconciled with the need for impartial judicial procedure. As the interviews with judicial candidates in this section reveal, judges and candidates for the bench see differing ways of resolving such tensions.