25 October 2004

A Pox on Both Their Parties

As if I needed any further proof that judicial elections are morally bankrupt, corrupting influences that ensure that the best candidates won't even stand for office, we have a truly fascinating—fascinating in that "picking the week-old scab" sort of way—election campaign in progress for the Illinois Supreme Court here. To avoid giving either candidate any more publicity than absolutely necessary, I'll refer to them as Red and Blue. In Illinois, we elect Supreme Court judges from the five appellate districts (three from Cook County, one from each of the other four). The vacancy being contested is from the Fifth District—far southern Illinois, including Madison and St. Clair Counties.

That's the first hint that something is wrong. Of all the governmental positions out there, the ones that should be least partisan are judgeships (presuming that one decides to elect judges in the first place, which is an uncommonly stupid and probably unconstitutional thing to do). Instead, we're treated to a far nastier campaign than anything we're seeing for President. And, to tell you the truth, in substance there's not a lot to choose between the candidates. One would think that the advertising campaigns would try to distinguish the two, but the best that the morons running the campaigns can manage is for Red to throw away a three-second line noting that a lot of Blue's campaign contributions have come from "trial lawyers who may practice before the [Supreme] Court." This is at best an instance of the candidate whose funding comes only 60% from "trial lawyers" accusing his opponent, whose funding comes over 70% from "trial lawyers," of inherently being biased for that reason. Remember, kids, the insurance defense bar is full of "trial lawyers," too!

What is most disgusting, though, is the fake newscast voiceovers that both candidates have adopted, each purporting to "announce" cases in which each candidate has been soft on crime, and particularly on sex crimes, while on the Illinois Court of Appeals (our intermediate court) and Circuit Court (our trial court). Let's leave aside the actual merits of the underlying cases, which are not identified. Maybe somebody has learned something from Willie Horton Backlash™, although apparently not enough. At no time do these particular attacks state why the particular decision was taken—or, in the case of the attacks on Blue, even whether "setting this heinous criminal who will come prey on your children next free" came as a result of an authored opinion, a concurring opinion, or silent concurrence in panel decisions on the Court of Appeals. Given the inflammatory nature of the ads, and the sorry record of Illinois courts—remember, more individuals on death row were released or granted new trials on grounds of substantive innocence, and not just procedural errors, in the decade before Governor Ryan declared his moratorium than were executed—one must wonder just how many of these convicted defendants were themselves substantively innocent. Actually, only those of us who have any real experience with the system will wonder that.

The irony of this particular set of attacks, though, is that the criminal defense bar hates both candidates. Colleagues I have spoken to who have appeared before the two find little to choose from; and certainly would rather appear before many other judges in the relevant circuit and district. Conversely, civil decisions don't seem to favor those evil plaintiffs' lawyers any more than any other jurist in Illinois (not just the Judicial Hellhole® of Madison County).

If I had any confidence at all in the judicial-discipline system in this state, I would report these campaigns in a heartbeat. It's not a case of "freedom of speech" here; there's no substantive difference. Instead, it's a case of deliberately deceptive statements, which do not fall within the First Amendment—and the bounds for judicial candidates must be considerably narrower, which only reinforces that electing judges is stupid. But then, the judge whose campaign consisted of stating that "he'll be tough on crime"—not for prosecutor, but for judge—managed to get his ardently prejudicial position through, so I shouldn't be surprised. I'm just moderately thankful that I don't have to vote in this one; the temptation to write in "Zippy the Pinhead" would be overwhelming, but I'm in the Fourth District.