Cash is free speech

The Madison County Record Mar. 12, 2006, 3:41am

The U.S. Supreme Court didn't give its reasons for passing on a review of Avery, Southern Illinois' $1 billion verdict against State Farm rejected by our state's Supremes last summer, but we can fashion some pretty good ones of our own.

Namely-campaign donations equal free speech in electoral politics. And thanks to the First Amendment, even the most holier than thou plaintiff's lawyers cannot sue to take our constitutional rights away.

Thank God.

Less than a year after his election to the Court, Karmeier was part of the 4-2 majority that rejected the Avery mega-verdict last August, noting that the plaintiffs in the case-State Farm policyholders who preferred branded auto parts-didn't allege any damages and, thus, couldn't be compensated for them.

In an appeal to the nation's highest Court, the losing lawyers had argued that the verdict should be reinstated, because State Farm's support of Karmeier's campaign was akin to bribery.

"(The Court) can ensure that those who cannot or chose not to make contributions to judicial candidates will not be denied neutral decision makers because their opponents or their lawyers made a different choice," they wrote.

The problem was, lots of people made lots of choices in that historic 2004 election.

Business interests-- in favor of a less activist judiciary-backed Karmeier. And trial lawyers-the ones who wanted Avery to stand and stood to cash in-backed his opponent, Democrat Gordon Maag.

Had the U.S. Supreme Court taken up Avery, it would have been required to choose a side. Which campaign donations are "bribes" and which ones are "legitimate"? Why is State Farm's participation in the political process evil, while trial lawyer involvement remains virtuous?

The answer is that the First Amendment doesn't choose sides. And it works best when the people use it.

Before 2004, the discourse around these parts had become overwhelmingly one-sided, with the trial bar-backed Metro-East Democrat Machine plain orchestrating our local politics and dominating our policy debates.

"The most expensive judicial race in U.S. history" changed all that. Now Southern Illinois is talking again. And we're all the better.

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