An extensive article in The Atlantic belabors the obvious:
More money is being spent to buy judicial seats — sometimes a more effective way to control public policy than legislation. When available, and it often is, the tough-on-crime theme is hard to beat, particularly when deployed in scary TV advertising by dark money groups like the one that beat up Tim Cullen to help elect Robin Wynne to the Supreme Court (and beat up Nate Steel to help elect Leslie Rutledge as attorney general).
The article suggests that the disadvantage of being a defense lawyer in judicial races and the advantage of using crime in such races means those elected to the bench aren’t likely to cut criminal defendants a break when cases are decided.
True, true and true.
The article mentions Arkansas races:
“If I were a criminal defendant,” said Cullen, the defense lawyer who lost the Arkansas judicial election, “I would be concerned about Justice Wynne’s fairness based on the campaign ads that he benefited from.” Wynne declined a request for comment.
A growing body of research suggests the campaigning produces tougher sentences and judges less forgiving in criminal cases. The article also notes, mostly in passing, that such advertising often isn’t about crime. It’s just a tool for Kochs and like-minded corporatists to elect corporate-friendly justices to the bench to suppress damage suits, advance Republican political agendas and similar aims.
We’ll probably never know who bankrolled the campaign for Robin Wynne. But there’s a deep belief in the legal community that class action attorney John Goodson financed the dark money ads against Tim Cullen to get Robin Wynne on the bench (maybe not so much for Wynne but against Cullen, a former law partner of Courtney Goodson, more about whom in a second). He also is believed instrumental in helping Justices Karen Baker and Jo Hart with campaign money. His money certainly has helped his wife, Associate Justice Courtney Goodson, already planning a run for chief justice in two years. Incoming justice Rhonda Wood worked the Republican circuit and got a fat early bankroll thanks to nursing home owner Michael Morton, a champion of “tort reform,” but she didn’t have an opponent so didn’t need to cook up any tough-on-crime material to burnish her conservative bona fides.
It may only be coincidental that Goodson, Baker and Hart have often formed alliances in some recent split court decisions. Many expect that alliance to emerge again in the coming decision on same-sex marriage. Soon we’ll know. Will Justice Goodson, planning a race for chief justice, vote to overturn a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in a state where EVEN FAYETTEVILLE has spoken in favor of discrimination against gay people? It is a measure of the cynicism about the judiciary today that I haven’t found a lawyer yet who thinks she will.