Public funds for judicial campaigns

March 22, 2010
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Judicial elections and merit selection of judges is a hot topic in Indiana. Just take a look at bills or resolutions introduced in the General Assembly recently. You’ll see attempts to forego merit selection in favor of elections: 2009’s HEA 1491, which looked to make St. Joseph Superior judges run for election and made a brief comeback this year; and 2009’s House Joint Resolution 9 that aimed to have our justices elected. Both failed to become law.

But what if our justices and appellate judges were elected? Would you be willing to fork over your money – whether through taxes or other fees – to pay for a general election fund? West Virginia thinks it’s a good idea and has recently passed legislation that creates a public campaign financing pilot program. You may recall Caperton, et al. v. A.T. Massey Coal, 129 S.Ct. 2252 (2009), came from West Virginia.

The legislation’s aim is to curb the perception that contributors and interested third-parties hold too much influence over the judicial process. Candidates in a primary election could receive $50,000 to $200,000 from the fund; they can get anywhere from $35,000 to $350,000 in a general election. The money was to come from fees from various court filings and new lawyer registration, but legislators amended it to strip that language so now money will have to come from a state surplus fund or private funds. You can read the legislation online. It’s set to become effective June 11.

West Virginia joins North Carolina, New Mexico, and Wisconsin as states that publicly fund judicial races. West Virginia only has one state appellate court.

Indiana is a hodgepodge of judicial selection processes – most counties elect their judges through partisan election, although a handful uses merit-selection or non-partisan elections. All of our appellate judges are chosen by merit selection.

The idea behind the public funds makes sense in attempting to eliminate perceived bias from judges who ran for the bench politically, but it also raises plenty of questions. Should states be funding judicial elections in this economy? What if a state is set up like ours – appellate judges are appointed but trial judges run for election – should lower court candidates also receive funds? What if there isn’t enough money in the public fund for candidates? They will have to raise their own money again, and that defeats the purpose of the bill.

If Indiana ever went the judicial election route for our appellate judges and justices, would you like to see the state create a campaign finance fund?
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  1. It is amazing how selectively courts can read cases and how two very similar factpatterns can result in quite different renderings. I cited this very same argument in Brown v. Bowman, lost. I guess it is panel, panel, panel when one is on appeal. Sad thing is, I had Sykes. Same argument, she went the opposite. Her Rooker-Feldman jurisprudence is now decidedly unintelligible.

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  4. Someone off their meds? C'mon John, it is called the politics of Empire. Get with the program, will ya? How can we build one world under secularist ideals without breaking a few eggs? Of course, once it is fully built, is the American public who will feel the deadly grip of the velvet glove. One cannot lay down with dogs without getting fleas. The cup of wrath is nearly full, John Smith, nearly full. Oops, there I go, almost sounding as alarmist as Smith. Guess he and I both need to listen to this again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnQ65J02XA

  5. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

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