Court: Money Changes Everything

Judges receiving campaign funds must step aside

A ruling by the United States Supreme Court on Monday about the role of campaign contributions on judges particularly resonated here in Illinois, home of the most expensive state Supreme Court race in American history.

The highest court in the land ruled that a West Virginia judge should have recused himself from a case involving a campaign contributor who had just helped elect him.

The court ruled that "[e]xcessive campaign contributions to a judge create an unconstitutional threat to a fair trial," the Washington Post reports, "a decision that could have a nationwide impact on whether judges must recuse themselves in cases involving their political benefactors.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform jumped on the ruling and called again for public financing of judicial elections.

"Every person or group which comes before a court deserves a fair and impartial judiciary, and that's endangered when special interest groups spend huge amounts of money to influence judicial campaigns," said ICPR executive director Cynthia Canary.

ICPR joined a brief filed in the case.

"What's shocking here, is that given all the ethical rules associated with being lawyers and judges, it took the US Supreme Court to rule on this," one Washington Post commenter wrote. "Any logical reading of the ethical rules would have had these judges off these cases a long time ago."

There does seem to be a giant Duh factor here. But then, somehow it's not bribery when you accept campaign contributions from, say, oil companies while making energy policy, or airlines while making transportation policy. Why should the judiciary be any different?

In fact, a bill providing for public financing in Illinois judicial elections has passed the state Senate in each of the last three legislative sessions, but has never been called in House.

"With the nation's highest court now acknowledging the conflict that campaign contributions can have on the courts, ICPR urges the General Assembly to take more immediate action on judicial public financing."

Send your complaints to Michael Madigan. And be sure to copy the state attorney general.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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