Thursday, June 7, 2012

How much does a justice cost?

Buying the election of a legislator or member of Congress is old hat. But a Supreme Court justice?

Special interest money in North Carolina's judicial races is not a new thing. But it may take a giant leap forward (backwards?) this year in a race for a seat on the state's Supreme Court. That raises an unsettling question: How independent can a judge truly be if he owes his election to hundreds of thousands of dollars from a small handful of donors?

We might soon find out. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby is running for reelection against Court of Appeals Judge Sam "Jimmy" Ervin IV. The race is technically nonpartisan, but Newby is a Republican and Ervin a Democrat. It's the only high court race on the ballot, and so the outcome will dictate the balance of the court - 4-3 right-leaning or 4-3 left-leaning. A number of controversial laws passed by the Republican-led legislature could make their way to the court's docket before long.

All of which explains why a group of wealthy conservatives have created a super PAC to funnel unlimited amounts of money toward reelecting Newby. The N.C. Judicial Coalition is a tax-exempt group that can take advantage of new rules allowing it to spend unlimited amounts to support or oppose candidates. Bob Luddy, who made a fortune in the heating and air conditioning business, is its chairman. Tom Fetzer, a former chairman of the state Republican Party, is on the board. Fetzer says the super PAC will raise as much as it possibly can to help Newby.

Ervin and Newby had each raised about $82,000 as of last week and both have qualified for about $240,000 in public financing.

Until recently, the infusion of cash on Newby's behalf would have sparked more public money for Ervin to narrow the gap. But a federal district court in North Carolina last month struck down that law, citing a 2011 Supreme Court ruling. So Ervin's backers now may have to create their own super PAC funded by wealthy liberals to compete with Newby. Lets the arms race begin.

Regardless of who wins, the special interest money that funded their campaign could start to crack their impartiality on the bench - or at least create the impression that it has. A North Carolinian with a case before the state's highest court should be able to have faith that the justices are fair and independent. That is made considerably more difficult when they have won their seats thanks to large donations from wealthy backers with clear ideologies.

Money's stain on judicial independence has been evident in other states. Remember the West Virginia case in which a businessman with a case before the court spent millions getting a justice elected? That justice then refused to recuse himself and voted with the 3-2 majority to overturn a $50 million verdict that had been rendered against his campaign backer.

As the New York Times pointed out in an editorial this week, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision of 2010 has opened the funding floodgates. And it's another reason to reconsider the way judges are selected.

Any system will have its flaws because it needs to balance competing objectives - independence vs. accountability. One method that strikes that balance: Judges are appointed by the governor or a bipartisan commission to fill a vacancy, then face one open election a couple of years later, then face periodic retention elections.

It sure beats just selling it to the highest bidder. Taylor Batten


Wiley Coyote said...

How much does an Observer paper cost?

I haven't bough one in 6 years.

Ghoul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kantstanzya said...

Yes we would be so much better off if we had Supreme Court judges appointed by people like Mike Easley with advise from key legistlators like Jim Black and the liberal bar association.

The good thing about elections is that you can vote out a bad judge. There are several states that appoint judges for life and are stuck with corrupt ones. You mention a West Virginia case. They can vote him out. A Supreme Court Judge in N.H. fixed a case for a friend but he is untouchable except by impeachemnt which is nearly impossible.

This is another article about a non existent problem except that the liberal agenda may be suppressed by the voters. You even admit in the article that both candidates have raised the same amount of money. But you are worried the Republican might get an edge. If it were the other way around I doubt we would have problem.

The scariest thing about appointing judges is the U.S. Supreme Court. How many more justices can our country stand to be appointed for life by Barack Obama...someone who doesn't even like the Constitution? That is what is really at stake this Novemeber.

Fire Coach K said...

President Obama TAUGHT Constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. For you to assert that he "doesn't even like the Constitution" says absolutely nothing about the President. It says a lot about how far some, like yourself, have fallen down the right-wing rabbit hole, though.

Garth Vader said...

MSNBC's Ed Schultz had 236 anti-Scott Walker guests on his show but only 1 pro-Scott Walker guest.

Walker won. In fact, despite his allegedly huge fundraising advantage, he won by nearly the same margin in 2012 as in 2010. So neither Schultz's obsession with defeating him or the PACs' infusion of cash on his behalf really did anything to change the outcome of the race.

You overestimate the influence that media buys have on elections. But since your livelihoods depend on selling advertising, you will likely keep trotting out that flawed "thinking".

annnort said...

Obama was as instructor for awhile at U Chi. I fear for anyone he may have tried to teach constitutional law. He knows nothing about our constitution or blatantly thumbs his nose at it. This is against his oath of office and should not be allowed.

Anyway, the O is always against things that make sense. Things must change in Nov.

Fire Coach K said...

That is some really, really strange logic, Garth.

No. 1, you seem to be assigning a lot of influence to Ed Schultz, who very, very few people watch ... and none to, say, Fox News, talk radio and so on. Golly, I wonder why.

No. 2, are you seriously arguing that Walker's gargantuan spending advantage didn't impact the outcome of the race? Really? I guess a lot of Walker supporters wasted tens of millions of dollars, then.

As any rational adult should be able to comprehend, the Walker campaign and the pro-Walker Super PACs spent as much as they did for one reason and one reason only: Because they needed to, in order to win. Don't pretend that Walker's campaign having an EIGHT TO ONE spending advantage, plus the pro-Walker PACs filling the airways with negative ads, had no impact. That's just idiotic to the point of being insulting.

Fire Coach K said...

annort, judging by your writing, I'd be surprised if you graduated high school. What you know about the Constitution or the president's oath of office could probably fit on the back of a matchbook, so I hold no regard for your opinion of what "should be allowed."

Frank Spencer said...

Yes, Kantstanzya, the WV voters can vote out the judge -- but only after he did his damage. The advantage to the appointment system is heavy scrutiny from the House and Senate -- i.e. by BOTH parties -- as well as by the Judicial Committee.

Furthermore, I'd hazard a guess that you don't like the President. But, any person with even a scintilla of common sense would not say "he doesn't even like the Constitution." Rather, he has a different view of it than you do. Moreover, he actually KNOWS not only what is in the Constitution, but also the history of Supreme Court jurisprudence that has interpreted the Constitution throughout the past 200+ years. You need to read a book, or at the very very least a Wikipedia page, on Constitutional Law before you spout nonsense. And before you flip out on my "liberal agenda," I'm actually a conservative who supports Romney. I just can't stand the same-old same-old from people who refuse to think. You make our party look bad.

Finally, the President will probably not appoint anymore Supreme Court justices if he is re-elected, unless, of course, one of them dies. That you believe his appointment of a Supreme Court justice is "what is really at stake this November" is mind-blowing. There are plenty of huge issues at stake this November, whether or not the President might appoint one judge -- who must be vetted, as I mentioned above, by a bipartisan House, Senate, and Judiciary Committee -- is a non-issue altogether.

bigdealsam63 said...

Between the Lines - The Republican is ahead in the poles so the print media arm of the DNC is obliged to wake up the libs for some $$$$$$.

Anonymous said...

About the same amount to buy a member or congress, some come cheap and some are high priced. It they have a strong opponent, the price is higher, but if the opponent is not strong then it does not take as much.
Our so called justices are becoming nothing more than a member of the party that buys them including our so called supreme court.

Garth Vader said...


*Total* expenditures in the race were nearly equal: Walker $30M Barrett $25M.

Don't believe everything (or more accurately *anything*) the media tell you, whether it's PMSNBC *or* FauxNoize.

Anonymous said...

Funny how Obamacare is about to be overturned, and the "O" has kept this up for five days.

Anonymous said...

Six days...