A new report is reiterating what we already knew about 2004’s Lloyd Karmeier versus Gordon Maag campaign ‘battle royale.’ It was the most expensive judicial election in U.S. history.
Let us be the first to commend all parties involved, namely the donors responsible for helping these campaigns set the spending record. Your contributions resulted in a public discourse as spirited as it was unprecedented; Southern Illinois is today a better place for it.
In this context we don’t mean “better” because of who prevailed—this newspaper supported Karmeier-- but rather because of how much was debated. The election raised important issues never before argued publicly in the 5th Judicial District. Thanks to record spending we saw record campaigning and candidate communications—activating a once judiciary-ambivalent electorate.
2004’s state supreme court race was the most intense and competitive judicial election Southern Illinois has ever seen. And that’s a good thing—for we the people, anyway.
Competitive debate isn’t the most comfortable exercise for everyone-- namely that ruling class accustomed to dominating the courthouse. This explains why the plaintiff’s bar is so dead set on ensuring an election like Karmeier vs. Maag never happens again.
Groups like the Washington, D.C.-based Justice at Stake Campaign (JASC)—the trial lawyer-backed group that released that new report—would have one think rigorous campaigns are a bad thing.
“The public will not endure a repeat of the 2004 Fifth District race,” said JASC’s executive director Bert Brandenburg in a press release last week. “The tidal wave of campaign money and television ads show how desperately Illinois needs to improve its judicial elections.”
JASC’s report charges that competitive campaigns “threaten(s) the structural safeguards that help to keep courts fair and impartial.” The group calls for an end to state judicial elections, arguing we should instead entrust the power of appointing judges to Governor Rod Blajojevich.
Only in the eyes of the losers and dictators are free elections, free speech and open discussion a public threat.
Just as our system didn’t create judicial elections to be ignored, it didn’t intend for our judiciary to exist in the shadows, nameless and unknown, immune from criticism.
In the case of Southern Illinois’ now notorious race, the underdog won, carrying the day with his reasoned arguments to the public in what would have typically been enemy territory.
Today Justice Lloyd Karmeier is undoubtedly more recognized by his electorate than any other judge in Illinois. That’s a goal and example to which our state should aspire, not reject.