Friday, February 02, 2007

Judging the Elections, Electing the Judges

The 2004 Fifth District Supreme Court race set of alarm bells around the country by shattering campaign spending records. That $9M record - nearly all of it from tort interests - is likely to stand for some time; early reports indicate that none of the 2006 races elsewhere in the country reached that high.

The 2006 Appellate Court race in the same District became a replay of the same proxy war. Tort plaintiffs gave heavily to the Democrat, while tort defendants gave to the Republican; average citizens, non-litigants and those interested in other kinds of cases didn't give much.

The total dollar amounts weren't quite as high in the Appellate Court race, but you wouldn't expect them to be. Republican Steven McGlynn spent $2.3M on the race, more than all candidates combined in previous appellate races. He lost to Democrat Bruce Stewart, who reported spending $1.1M.

The dollar amounts are still absurdly high. They serve to scare qualified candidates away from running, especially Democrats who don't have the support of personal injury plaintiffs and Republicans who don't have the support of personal injury defendants.

If there's a silver lining, it's that Judge Stewart proved that candidates can win without matching their opponent dollar for dollar. In the Third District, too, the winner prevailed despite being heavily outspent. Potential candidates leery of running against better-funded opponents can rest assured that financial parity is not necessary for victory.

Stewart still took a lot of plaintiffs' money, though, and regardless of what sort of jurist he proves to be, he will likely face allegations that his donors bought a victory, just as Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier has faced such allegations. Regardless of who wins, the current system ensures dissatisfaction. So that candidates don't have to rely on special interest donations, ICPR supports public financing for judicial candidates, but we acknowledge that there are other ways around this thicket and we hope others are willing to explore alternative ways of funding these campaigns.

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