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Reflections of a Survivor of State Judicial Election Warfare

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Reflections of a Survivor of State Judicial Election Warfare

June 1, 2001
Legal ReformOther

Thirty years ago, there was almost no media coverage of state judicial campaigns—and certainly there was no national interest in them. Frankly, there was not much on which to report. Judicial races of that era were largely quiet, decorous affairs where the candidates politely presented their credentials to various civic groups and lawyers. Except in the unusual campaign, the fraction of voters who even bothered to cast a ballot in judicial races generally returned the incumbents to office and then everyone went back to sleep.

However, last fall, Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio and several other states were the staging grounds for breathtakingly expensive, brutal and hard fought state supreme court races. Even the venerable New York Times and the Wall Street Journal deigned to feature stories and editorials on the Michigan and Ohio supreme court races. There was a sense that something new was afoot in judicial races.

My quick internet review of newspaper accounts of last year’s state supreme court races across the country reveals: (1) a nearly universal editorial hue and cry over the amount of campaign funds raised and spent by the candidates themselves and by “independent” advocacy campaign groups, and (2) a high-pitched, sustained whine about the awful tenor of these campaigns. In short, the kind of bare-knuckle judicial campaigns that first debuted in Texas and Alabama a decade ago have now metastasized to a broader array of states.

It would appear, from the various newspaper articles I have reviewed, that there is now universal agreement (at least among those who own and write for the newspapers, and other political cognoscenti) that judicial elections have gotten out of hand and that some other method of judicial selection must be found.

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