The “virus” of big special interest group spending and nasty attack ads in judicial elections has spread to retention (up-or-down) elections this year, a New York Times editorial warns in calling urgently for fundamental reform.
The editorial, headlined “Judges and Money,” decries the trend as “especially troubling because retention ballots were supposed to limit politicization by sparing sitting judges from having to compete in regular multicandidate contests.”
A retention election in Illinois is the editorial’s case-in-point. Justice Thomas Kilbride is the target of a fierce ouster campaign (see Gavel Grab for earlier posts) in which both sides have raised a combined $3.1 million.
The judge has provoked fury from big business and insurance interests over his vote siding with a court majority against limits on medical malpractice claims. The opposition ads are “particularly noxious,” and the judge is “unfairly” portrayed along the way as soft on crime, according to the editorial.
It concludes with support for Justice Kilbride’s retention and also an eye to more far-reaching action:
“[T]he huge amounts of money in this campaign and others around the country are doing huge damage to the courts’ reputation for impartiality — and underscores the urgent need for basic reforms.
“States that hold judicial elections must adopt public financing as well as strict rules that bar judges from sitting on cases involving major financial supporters.”