A report released last month by the Center for American Progress concludes that Corporate America has taken over the state courts. That’s where 95% of all legal disputes are heard. The report says justice is influenced by massive campaign contributions to judicial candidates. It was noted that an overwhelming majority of donations to state judgeship campaigns now come from corporations and lobbyists. For example, a 2011 report from the Brennan Center for Justice found that just three pro-business groups donated nearly 13 times as much as the entire labor movement during 2010 state judicial elections.
The recent study concluded that the rising amount of money spent in state elections has allowed companies to back prospective judges with pro-business records. This has, according to the report, created a pattern of rulings in favor of cutting costs at the expense of giving Americans “a fair trial.” In 2010, candidates running for judicial positions in six states that also held elections in 1990 took in $5.7 million, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. In 1990, candidates in those same states were only able to raise $2.5 million.
Tom Perriello, president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, stated: “The groups that are spending money don’t care, they just want the judge that will go their way.” As part of the report, the Center compiled a list of more than 400 cases from 2000 to 2010 in the six states that had the biggest influx of money in judicial elections. The Center found judges in 71% of those cases ruled for corporations, suggesting a correlation between campaign spending and favorable rulings for donors. The report concluded:
The high courts that have seen the most campaign spending are much more likely to rule in favor of big businesses and against individuals who have been injured, scammed or subjected to discrimination.
Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson, who participated in a forum sponsored by the Center for American Progress last month, said money in judicial elections was “corrosive and distortive.” He added:
As long as I think our national philosophy and economy is dominated by the free-market concept… I don’t think anything is sacrosanct. The best way to promote that philosophy is to control everything, and the best way to control everything is through money.
A 2002 study of voters and state judges found that both groups (nine in ten voters and eight in ten state judges) were concerned about special interest groups buying advertisements in an effort to shape state judicial elections. The need for “principled” people to run for judicial positions was stressed. Many believe the influence of money has kept lots of good and qualified people out of judicial races in a number of states.
As we have mentioned repeatedly, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 decided the Citizens United case, the effect of which removed limits on corporate campaign contributions. The decision has been challenged a number of times, but the Supreme Court has upheld the ruling, arguing corporations spending money in politics doesn’t cause corruption or the appearance of corruption. Recently, the Court voted to strike down a 100-year-old Montana law that banned companies from contributing to political campaigns, citing the Citizens United decision.
In Alabama, we saw much less money spent in elections for slots on the Alabama Supreme Court in this year’s elections. In my opinion, that is a very good thing. It is my hope that the Legislature will see fit to pass some meaningful judicial campaign reform legislation next year. I believe the people of Alabama want change in that area of concern.
Source: WSFA News
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