Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Like Illinois' Kilbride, retention-seeking judges in other states targeted by opposition groups

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Tom Kilbride is in an unusual retention campaign – that being one where there is organized opposition – but he is not alone: Judges in several states across the nation are facing robust opposition from interest groups and political groups unhappy with their decisions.

These opposed retention races in Iowa, Colorado and Kansas mark a shift in judicial campaigns.

Up until now, judicial retention campaigns largely have been immune from the increasingly bitter and expensive nationwide trend of contested judicial elections.

Over the border, in Iowa, conservative groups are working to try to oust the three Supreme Court justices who are up for retention this election, citing their participation in an unanimous court decision which legalized same-sex marriage in the state. Opponents have branded the retention-seekers “activist judges” in campaign advertisements and have spent more than $650,000 so far to try to oust them.

In Colorado, new political committee Clear the Bench Colorado, led by a resident who is frustrated with the state’s performance commission evaluation system, is encouraging voters to kick out three judges over decisions the opponents say improperly raised taxes. Justice At Stake, which is tracking campaign money in judicial elections, reported last week that the group had raised less than $35,000.

Kansas Supreme Court Justice Carol Beier has been targeted for removal by the pro-life community that contends that the judge has been unfair when addressing abortion-related cases.

Like well-funded, combative judicial selection campaigns, heated and costly judicial retention campaigns seem destined to reduce public confidence in the judiciary as an independent branch of government.

The shift gives more support for the need to reform the process by which Illinois chooses judges. In a letter to the editor in today’s Chicago Tribune, ICPR director Cindi Canary explain the implications of the Kilbride race and proposes how we remedy the problem. Take a look here.

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