To kick off your Monday, here’s a cautionary tale from Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick about what’s happening in Tennessee judicial elections — a tale that’s unfortunately all too familiar here in North Carolina.
In a reprise of what happened in that state back in 2009, three Democratically-appointed Supreme Court justices who are up for a retention election (essentially a vote of confidence) are under attack from well-heeled Republicans who, having gained control of the legislature and the governor’s seat there, want to complete their trifecta by ruling the high court as well.
Sound familiar? (See Robin Hudson).
In an interesting twist, though, the state bar association has launched a counterattack, raising nearly $600,000 in bipartisan support of the justices.
While admirable, that effort plays right into the quandary of lawyers giving money to judges before whom they appear and feeds an unfortunate spending spiral.
And that’s the real problem. When judicial races turn into spending races, what suffers most is not Democrats or Republicans, but judicial independence and integrity. As has been exhaustively chronicled by one nonpartisan study after another, judges don’t want to be dialing for dollars from the attorneys who litigate before them, and litigants don’t want to appear before judges who dial for dollars. All of the data shows that the effect is a decline in confidence in the independence of the judiciary and a spending arms race that spirals ever more out of control. That’s the paradox of course: Cynically preying on an unspecified public fear of out-of control judges will ultimate result in actual jurists who are actually compromised, either by taking money they shouldn’t be taking, or making promises and pledges they are in no position to make. In either case, imaginary judicial shadiness becomes a lot more real.