Trial Lawyer Lobby Scores Several Big Victories — But Signs Of Hope In A Tough Election Year
November 5, 2008
Democratic state Supreme Court candidates – backed by the money and influence of the powerful trial lawyer lobby – scored several victories last night that could result in the rollback of important legal reform legislation and lead to a more lawsuit-friendly, anti-business environment. The trial bar also strengthened its grip on the judicial selection process in Kansas and Missouri. Yet rule-of-law judicial candidate also won races in many key states, providing signs of hope in an otherwise tough election cycle.
A 2008 election roundup:
Michigan: A “scathing” ad campaign financed by the Michigan Democratic Party along with Senator Obama’s landslide in the state helped Diane Hathaway upset Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor. Ms. Hathaway’s victory will weaken the current rule-of-law majority on the court and worsen the business climate in Michigan’s already devastated economy.
Mississippi: Rule-of-law candidates captured three of the four Mississippi Supreme Court seats up for grabs. Although Chief Justice Jim Smith was upset by challenger Jim Kitchens, business-backed challengers Bubba Pierce and David Chandler defeated incumbents Oliver Dias, Jr. and Chuck Easley. Meanwhile, rule-of-law Justice Ann Hannaford Lamar beat back her challenger to retain her seat on Mississippi’s high court. The result should be a fairer, more predictable legal environment, which Gov. Haley Barbour believes is critical to attracting investment and jobs to Mississippi.
Louisiana: Greg Guidry won a pivotal seat on the state Supreme Court – a victory that is expected to help a rule-of-law majority take control of the high court.
Alabama: Republican Greg Shaw squeaked to victory over Democrat Deborah Bell Paseur in the race to fill the seat of retiring Republican Harold See. The Alabama Supreme Court will retain an 8-1 Republican majority.
“Merit” Selection: Residents of Johnson County, KS voted down a ballot initiative that would have restored the right to vote for county judges and ended the current “merit” selection process. In Greene County, MO, voters narrowly (by about 4,000 votes) approved an initiative to adopt “merit” selection, which has been used by all three Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court in Missouri since 1945.
Wisconsin: Back in April, Wisconsin voters ousted Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler – who was appointed by a Democratic governor only after decisively losing his own bid for election and who promptly shifted the high court sharply toward the trial lawyer agenda.
All in all, the 2008 elections provide strong evidence that American voters support judicial candidates that will exercise judicial restraint by interpreting the law, rather than legislating from the bench. But as we saw in Michigan, the trial bar and supporters of an activist judiciary are both financially and philosophically committed to fighting this battle out state by state, race by race. The trial bar and its allies are not afraid to wage tough, nasty, expensive campaigns to shift the courts in their ideological direction. If the legal reform community wants to hold onto the gains we’ve made and even extend them, we must have that same level of commitment.