The U.S. Supreme Court refused – prior to November 4th – to hear a challenge over a provision in North Carolina’s system of publicly financed judicial campaigns for additional funds in expensive races. The Justices declined, without comment, to consider the constitutionality of a voluntary program passed by the North Carolina Legislature that took effect in 2004. The program provides campaign money for state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals candidates if they agree to fundraising restrictions leading up to the general election. The decision came on the eve of an election in which all but two of the 13 candidates for those seats on the November 4th ballot participated in the program. The decision left a federal lower court ruling in effect that upheld the law, which has been a model for other states. Paul Ryan, a lawyer with the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, whose group earlier filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the law, stated:
This gives supporters of judicial public financing and public financing in general confidence and assurance that the long line of decisions (supporting) public financing … are still the law of the land.
A former Supreme Court candidate and the North Carolina Right to Life Committee filed suit over the law in 2005, arguing it restricted free speech rights in cases where outside groups or nonparticipating candidates exceeded spending thresholds. The qualifying candidates receive matching “rescue funds” to counter such injections of money. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled with North Carolina in May. Lawyers for the Plaintiff and the committee asked the appellate court unsuccessfully to consider the case in part because interest in public financing has expanded nationwide.
Under the North Carolina program, qualifying candidates for Supreme Court received $223,625 and candidates for the Court of Appeals received $160,000 this year. The program is funded largely by a $50 annual fee that all North Carolina lawyers must pay and a voluntary check-off on state income tax returns. The program reduces the appearance that judicial candidates could treat lawyers or their clients who gave to their campaigns differently when cases come to the courtroom. Hopefully, laws like this one in North Carolina will continue to be upheld. In fact, all states need to pass even tougher laws to help clean up a broken system that exists in all too many states.
Source: Associated Press
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