At the risk of offending the current members of the Alabama Supreme Court, I am going to mention the results of several polls that dealt with potential court races. According to recent polls, most Alabamians can’t name more than two members of the Court. Both Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Justice Tom Parker have fairly good name recognition with potential voters, but neither is quite as high as I had expected. None of the others even on the High Court registered in the polls. So it appears nobody knows who serves on the highest court in Alabama and that’s a shame. But I guarantee you, the bosses at Exxon and at drug companies like GSK know the names of each Justice on the Court.

Also, most of those polled were shocked to learn that there were no African-American Justices on the High Court and that the political split was 8 to 1 in favor of Republicans. The polls indicated that judicial elections should be non-partisan. Nobody can justify electing Supreme Court Justices in partisan elections, but that’s exactly what we have in Alabama. Large sums of money pumped into the candidate’s campaigns – and even more money coming into the campaigns through third party groups who don’t have to reveal money sources – dictate who sits on the Alabama Supreme Court. That’s not good for working men and women, retirees or persons who now find themselves unemployed. Hopefully, one of these days the way we elect and finance judges will be changed.

There was an editorial last month in The Daily Home that addressed judicial elections in Alabama. It contained a very good assessment of our current situation and how judges should be elected.

It is supposed to be “blind justice” in the judicial system — no consideration of a person’s station in life, the color of his skin or his political views. Yet in Alabama, when it comes to electing judges, voters decide based on party affiliation. This state requires that judges run with a political label attached to them, which can trump qualifications and judicial history just because an R or a D following their name.

We think that’s wrong. And so does state Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, who has been trying to get a bill passed that would require judicial candidates to run in non-partisan elections since 2004. His bill is up again this week before a House panel on Constitution and Elections, and he is making the same valid arguments he has in the past. He rightly points out that there is no place for partisan judges hearing cases on child custody, contract violations or a felony charge. Democrat or Republican should make no difference. Judicial experience and the ability to render a fair decision should.

The bill’s proponents and opponents are split largely along party lines with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposing. And therein, lies part of the problem. Republicans say it is because they hold the advantage on the state level, and Democrats are trying to wrangle away those seats on the bench. It is yet another partisan attack on what should be common sense — that it is justice for all, not justice based on a political party. Alabama needs to follow the lead of other states that conclude that judges should not come to the bench with a publicly set political view. They need to rule based on the law, and a party label gives the appearance that justice isn’t as blind as it needs to be.

The Daily Home

February 16, 2010

I have always wondered how much effect newspaper editorials really have – maybe none – but oftentimes the writers reflect the mood of ordinary folks. Most Alabama citizens believe judges shouldn’t be elected in partisan elections, but instead candidates should go before the voters in non-partisan races. It will take a Governor and enough legislators – who can withstand political pressure from the powerful special interests – to finally clean up the current way we elect judges in Alabama.

Source: Birmingham News and The Daily Home

Jere L. Beasley, Beasley Allen Founder
Jere Beasley

Jere Beasley, the founding member of Beasley Allen Law Firm, has practiced law as an advocate for victims of wrongdoing since 1962. He was the lead Beasley Allen attorney in the record $11.9 billion award against ExxonMobil Corp. on behalf of the state of Alabama.

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