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More on money and judicial elections

     A recent report funded jointly by the Justice at Stake Campaign, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics found more basis for concern over "purchasing" state judgeships.  It noted that between 2002 and 2004, the amount of money raised to support judicial elections had increased from 29 million dollars, nationwide, to 47 milllion dollars.  In 2006, it dropped to "only" 34.4 million dollars when there were fewer contested races, while the median financial contribution total, per judgeship, increased by almost 25 percent from $202,000.00 to $244,000.00.

          Spending on television advertising is one significant component in this increase.  Candidates for Alabama's elected Chief Justice seat purchased a total of 17,830 TV spots for this one election in the second-most expensive judicial race ever.  The biggest spenders in these races are not, as some would suggest, trial lawyers.  Despite their intimate familiarity with the candidates and issues, all lawyers are overwhelming out-spent by business interests:  in 2006 nationwide races, business interests contributed more than 15 million dollars, while all lawyers of every political stripe combined contributed only about 7 million dollars.

        Actually, regardless of who is identified as "buying" judges, the practice and appearance are denigrating to the court and to the image that the justices are "above" political influence.  Figures from the 2004 and 2006 elections showed that the outcome of 85 and 68 percent of judicial elections, respectively, could be accurately predicted by analyzing which candidate received more cash. 

         Our courtrooms should be the final refuge of equality in our society.  It is dangerous enough that legislators may be "purchased" and protected from campaign regulation by the argument that the First Amendment protects unlimited finanicial contributions.  No citizen should enter a courtroom in this country knowing that the elected judge has been elevated to the bench through the financial efforts of a particular industry, trade group or special interest.  When we read of judicial pronouncements and verdicts, we should have confidence that they represent the best thinking of our generation, with as little special interest influence as possible.  Judicial opinions on topics like land use, injury liability, criminal procedure and constitutional rights, medical malpractice and corporate governance are too important to be purchased in advance by special pleaders.  Perhaps if the media did not reap such a windfall every election cycle, it would be more open to supporting a campaign for judicial selection reform.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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