The New York Times reports on outside group funding — including the Kochs of course — being used to oust Tennessee judges viewed as too liberal.
This has been and is happening to varying degrees all over the country. What’s the point of having corporate-friendly statutes if you run the risk of a judge finding constitutional problems with them?
The movement is creeping into Arkansas. Corporate money helped build a treasury for Republican Rhonda Wood, elected without opposition to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Outside money — still unidentified as to source — helped defeat another candidate for Supreme Court, Tim Cullen, who opposed Robin Wynne. Corporate money — particularly from nursing home magnate Michael Morton and other “tort reform” champions — flowed heavily into Mike Maggio’s race for Court of Appeals (before he undid himself) and into the races of a number of circuit judge candidates in Faulkner County (nearly all the successful ones).
Gilbert Baker, the disgraced former senator who has served as bagman for legal reform causes for years, undoubtedly isn’t through with his work. After a brief time out of the limelight while various investigations work their way through the system, I expect to see him in the halls of the Capitol again with a checkbook for a 501C4 organization intent on good judicial results.
It’s a bad idea to elect judges. But appointment alone isn’t a panacea. There’s politics in that process, too. And the appointment system is often accompanied, as it is in Tennessee, by judges standing for approval periodically. This once was pro forma. But that was before the Kochs, Chamber of Commerce and others started throwing money around.
Election also leaves judges open to demagogues like Jason Rapert. Unpopular decisions — equal rights for gay people — can cause you trouble. The timid avoid the possibility of recall by ignoring the Constitution or otherwise finding ways to duck their oaths.