Big Money Judicial Races
Posted: November 4, 2016
In my opinion, big-money judicial races taint the entire legal system. Like a sandstorm that blots out the sun, this year's all-consuming presidential race has been overshadowed by down-ballot elections. One corrupting trend that should not be oscured is the deluge of money going into state judicial races. It's bad enough when the presidential candidates and those runnning for everything from Congress to the state legislatures, are viewed as beholden to special interests.
It's even worse when judges, who are supposed to the impartial umpires of tghe legal system no longer appears fair. At best, the course system no longer appears fair. At worst, the system no longer is fair.
State Supreme court judges are on ballots in 27 states this fall, as of Wednesday, outside groups have already broken the record in television ad spending with $14 million coming from ad buyers. The money has come from all directions: trial lawyers and businesses, liberal and conservative groups, and showdowy organizations that do not have to disclose their donors.
This year, Exhibit A of excess is in the battle in Lousiana, where business interests are bying with plaintiffs' trial lawyers to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. Louisiana landowners of often sue oil and gas companies for alleged damage during drilling or exploration, litigation worth tens of millions of dollars to each side. Already, more than $785,000 has been spent by just three outside groups, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, an enormous amount for a race in a single judicial district. Much of the money comes from groups with opaque names that tend to confuse voters, such as Restore Our Coast, a political action committee led by local trial lawyers.
There's no doubt that information and freedom of speech are the lifeblood of democracy. But when voters decide who should serve as president, senator or state legislator or a local school board member, they need to understand those candidates and their vision for the future. The same is true when voters choose judges. To make an informed decision, voters in 39 states that elect judges need more information on which candidates have the qualifications and share their values and beliefs.
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