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The Continuing Politicization of the Legal System: Tort Reform, Big Money, and Judicial Elections

StoryNovember 01, 2000
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While some would like to think of the American legal system as an abstract bastion of pure justice, untainted by the corruption of politics, that has of course never been the case. The image of a judiciary above the political fray has always been just that: an image. Americans have always argued about the politicization of the justice system.

Now, in an election season that has seen a heightened discussion of the problems with the campaign finance system, there are signs all across the nation that the kinds of tactics long associated with presidential and congressional races are being deployed to sway the out comes of electoral contests for judgeships and attorneys general. According to an article by Emily Heller and Mark Ballard in this week’s National Law Journal, this year marks the first time that millions of dollars in soft money are being spent by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to run television commercials in some strategic races in states like Michigan, Mississippi, Indiana, and Ohio, commercials which attack sitting judges and candidates for elected legal positions. The Chamber of Commerce is seeking to elect judges who will rule favorably on tort reform, while unseating those they see as irresponsibly favoring litigation against commercial interests.

One of the most hotly contested state supreme court elections in the country is going on in Ohio, where incumbent State Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick has been accused of converting campaign contributions from plaintiffs’ trial lawyers and unions into favorable rulings from the bench for those groups. The accusations have been made in millions of dollars worth of political ads sponsored by Citizens For A Strong Ohio, a group closely linked to the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and a strong advocate of tort reform.

The battle in that Ohio Supreme Court race has been joined by a coalition of labor unions, teachers, and lawyers called Citizens For An Independent Court, who advocate getting soft money out of the judicial races.

Guests:

  • Chip McConville, the Vice President of Citizens for a Strong Ohio, and also the Political Director of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
  • Randy Weston, spokesman for Citizens for an Independent Court and Associate Director of Ohio AFSCME United.
  • Joanne Doroshow, the Executive Director of The Center for Justice and Democracy, a national non-profit consumer group dedicating to keeping citizens apprised of issues affecting their rights.

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