October 20, 2008
The Supreme Court money race

As we've seen in other races, Democratic candidates have been able to keep up with, even surpass, Republican incumbents in fundraising. That's also true in the State Supreme Court races.

According to Texans for Public Justice, the three Republican incumbents -- Jefferson, Wainwright and Johnson -- received an average of 65 percent of their campaign contributions through June 30 from lawyers and litigants who have had motions or interests in cases before the high court since 2005.

Through June 30, the three justices had raised more than $1.5 million, with Jefferson raising $661,000 of that.

Their major contributors included defense-oriented law firms, insurers and other businesses and tort reform groups favoring limits on civil lawsuits and judgments.

Texans for Public Justice didn't attempt to link individual contributions to lawsuit outcomes. But other studies have shown that the Supreme Court, since the Republican takeover, has sided with doctors, insurance companies and other corporate defendants in the vast majority of lawsuits brought by consumers.

Through June 30, the Democratic challengers -- Jordan, Houston and Yanez -- had collectively raised $722,000, about half of the Republicans' total. Some 69 percent came from lawyers or other people who had business before the court over the past three years.

That may not seem like much, but consider that the Dems' top Supreme Court candidate from 2006, Bill Moody, raised $60K in the first six months of that year, and had $5K on hand thirty days out from the election. This is a big step up.

If you are (quite reasonably) concerned with who gives what to the justices and the candidates for justice, I think the best solution is strictly enforced recusal requirements in cases where one or more parties have made contributions above a certain limit to any of the justices. I don't see how making judicial elections non-partisan would help - people still make contributions in such elections, after all. Judge Jordan's suggestion of moving judicial elections to May, mentioned here, is interesting, but I fear it would mostly ensure these races are always low-turnout affairs. Public financing is also a possible answer, though I don't think there's nearly enough support for it to ever be viable. All things considered, I think requiring a justice's removal in cases where a litigant has contributed to (or against) his election is the best we can do.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 20, 2008 to Election 2008
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