Justice at Stake responds

The Madison County Record Aug. 21, 2005, 1:29am

To the editor:

The Record’s August 14 editorial (“In defense of elections”) states that the Justice at Stake Campaign “calls for an end to state judicial elections.”

We do not. Our campaign, whose partners include business and attorney groups, does not endorse any particular system for selecting judges. (Nor do we ever support or oppose candidates.)

It is also an error of fact to characterize our concern about record-setting spending in judicial campaigns, much of it from undisclosed sources, as reflecting opposition to democratic debate. Across the country, we have worked to support media coverage, debates, and non-partisan voter guides to encourage more people to vote in judicial elections. Interest groups have a right to work within whatever rules exist to support candidates make their voices heard.

But courts are supposed to decide cases based on the merits, fairly and impartially, without worrying about big donors or political pressure.

That’s why it is of concern when trial lawyers and business groups with cases before the court spend more than $9.3 million on a single race—more than the total raised by candidates in 18 of last year’s 34 U.S. Senate campaigns. As the winner, Judge Karmeier, said on election night, “That’s obscene for a judicial race. What does it gain people? How can people have faith in the system?”

Given such efforts, perhaps it’s not surprising that opinion surveys show that three in four Americans believe that campaign contributions affect the outcome of court cases. But more chilling is the fact that one in four judges agrees.

Sensible campaign finance laws can help ensure that courts stay impartial and independent. That’s why Illinois improved its campaign finance disclosure laws last year. That’s why, in states like North Carolina, business executives and trial lawyers have come together in support of public financing and voter guides for appellate judicial elections.

Thank you for the opportunity to clarify the record, and to add our point of view to the debate.

Bert Brandenburg
Justice at Stake Campaign,
Executive Director

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