The consequences of the Citizens United decision have been felt across the country and have been widely reported, including by this blog. Some states are focusing specifically on the effect of unlimited campaign money on judicial elections, with advocates arguing that though money is not is not a true substitute for speech in any type of election, the differences between money and traditional speech are more pronounced in the judicial field.
One example of such a tactic is the recent effort in Arkansas to distinguish judicial elections from other democratic mechanisms. The Arkansas Bar Association’s Task Force on Judicial Election Reform has developed ways to reform judicial elections and to curb the corrosive effect of money on an elected judiciary. Justice Robert Brown, the Chairman of the Task Force, has warned of the danger in failing to distinguish the unique nature of judicial elections: “If they’re not different, it will indeed undermine the dignity and the respect for the courts.”
In early March, 2012, the Task Force delivered three reform ideas during a panel discussion at the Clinton Presidential Library. First, Arkansas may develop a response committee dedicated to publicly identifying false statements made in judicial races. Second, they may create a voter guide with factual information about all the candidates. Third, a non-profit may be formed to encourage candidates to run fair campaigns and to disavow any false statements made by third parties.
Critics charge that holding judicial elections to different standards than other races is dangerous because it would provide a slippery slope that would lead to an unconstitutional reduction in free speech. Moreover, critics say, all political elections should be conducted with integrity, making electoral distinctions between the branches irrelevant.
The problem (or advantage) of unlimited money in judicial elections is an issue debated across the country and will be specifically addressed on March 29, 2012 and William & Mary Law School during the annual Election Law Symposium.
Alli Handler is a first-year law student at William & Mary.