Are Koch Brothers, Ex-Candidates Using Judicial Elections to Boost Presidential Swing-State Turnout?
WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 26, 2012—An ad paid for by a Koch Brothers group highlights a new under-the-radar trend in Election 2012: the use of state supreme court campaigns by outside politicians and interest groups in ways that could drive up conservative turnout in presidential battleground states.
In recent weeks, organized activity has focused on state supreme court elections in Florida and Iowa, two of the nation’s most critical battleground states in the presidential race.
In Florida, days after the state Republican Party announced it would seek to unseat three state supreme court justices up for reelection, Americans for Prosperity unveiled an ad criticizing the court. The ad focused on a 2010 ruling in which the court prohibited the legislature from placing misleading electioneering language summarizing a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. (Legislative leaders did not challenge the lower court finding on appeal to the Supreme Court, and were angered when the court determined it did not have the authority to order that the defective language be replaced on the ballot with the full text of the amendment. Such an action would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature.)
The online ad, a long version of which is posted at the Americans for Prosperity Florida youtube page, describes the federal health care legislation. It then adds, “Most Americans oppose it. That’s why many states like Ohio gave their citizens the right to vote against it. Not Florida. Our own supreme court denied our right to choose for ourselves. Shouldn’t our courts protect our right to choose? You be the judge.”
In Iowa, former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are joining a bus tour seeking to unseat Justice David Wiggins, who joined a 2009 ruling that allowed same-sex couples to marry. In 2010, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as he was gearing up his own presidential campaign, played an integral role in a campaign that unseated three other state justices who joined the marriage decision.
“Judges already face unprecedented pressure to answer to special interests and political agendas, instead of the law and the constitution,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the Justice at Stake Campaign. “The presence of out-of-state politicians and interest groups raises real questions: Are state judicial elections being used as pawns in a bigger partisan game?”
State supreme court elections have been caught up in national campaigns for more than a decade, as special-interest money flooded what once were low-budget, low-profile elections. State high court candidates raised $206.9 million from 2000-09, more than twice the $83.3 million raised in the 1990s, and independent groups spent an estimated $50-100 million more.
While leaders in both parties have sharply criticized court decisions, polls show that self-identified very conservative voters are more responsive to attacks on purportedly “activist” judges than other parts of the political spectrum. Highly conservative voters also say, more than other voter groups, that court issues are likely to influence their votes.
The Americans for Prosperity ad was cited in Reuters. The ad urges viewers to go to a website, www.youbethejudgefl.com, and sign a petition demanding that judges respect property rights.
The Justice at Stake Campaign is a nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign working to keep America’s courts fair and impartial. Justice at Stake and its 50-plus state and national partners educate the public, and work for reforms to keep politics and special interests out of the courtroom – so judges can protect our Constitution, our rights and the Rule of Law. The positions and policies of Justice at Stake partners and board members are their own. For more about Justice at Stake, go to www.justiceatstake.org, or www.gavelgrab.org.