Justices for sale
The trouble with 'dark money' and its effect on the state’s judicial elections
Published: November 14, 2012
There's good reason to pour so much money into Supreme Court races: It's very cost-effective.
"I've heard it said by both sides of this campaign that it's easier to count to four than 76," says Robinson.
By that he means four votes gives you a majority on the state Supreme Court; it takes 76 votes to have a majority in the state House and Senate.
As Robinson pointed out at the end of October, "Michigan's Supreme Court election appears to be headed for the notorious distinction of being the nation's most expensive and least transparent judicial election campaign in 2012."
It appears that's exactly how things played out.
In April, the Michigan Judicial Selection Task Force — a group that included former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, state Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly, U.S. Appellate Court Judge James L. Ryan and Wayne State Law School assistant professor Justin R. Long — found:
"Too often special interest groups hide behind innocuous-sounding names that obscure their real purpose in funding supreme court-campaign advertisements. If corporations, unions, trade groups, political parties, or private persons wish to fund advertisements, they are free to do so. But they should inform the public of their true identity so that voters can weight the messages in context."
Among other things, the task force also recommended: establishment of a nonpartisan citizens' campaign oversight committee that would "check the factual claims in advertisements and denounce false, misleading, or destructive messages. The honesty, respect, and fairness that citizens expect from their courts should also mark campaigns for judicial office."
That, obviously, hasn't happened.
So, is it time to explore another task force recommendation — the one that urges a constitutional amendment that changes the way state Supreme Court justices are selected?
At least some on the task force said they'd like to see a new system put in place where a nominating commission proposes qualified candidates, with the governor making appointments from that list.
The task force pointed to Arizona as a good model to follow. There, non-lawyers form a majority on the nominating commission, with open hearings that include public participation.
It's an idea certainly worth exploring.
Otherwise, every time our supremes make a ruling, we're left to wonder if justice is being served, or just the highest bidder.
News Hits is written by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.
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