Supreme Court Will Not Hear Challenge to North Carolina Courts' Public Finance System
For Immediate Release
Contact: Tim Bradley,
BerlinRosen Public Affairs, (646) 452-5637, (314) 440-9936
Upheld Below, North Carolina Provision Reduces Power of Wealthy Special Interests in Judicial Election
Today, advocates for fair
and impartial courts observed a significant victory as the U.S. Supreme Court
declined to hear a challenge to the nation's first public funding system for
judicial elections. The decision bolsters North Carolina's system for reducing the
influence of money from state courts - and efforts to do the same elsewhere -
at a time when millions of dollars continue to pour into judicial elections
around the country.
"This is an important
decision in the battle to protect our elective state courts from the undue
influence of wealthy contributors," said Laura MacCleery, Deputy Director of
the Democracy Program at the Brennan
Center for Justice.
"The Court's denial preserves an innovative campaign finance system and
protects judicial candidates in North Carolina from going hat-in-hand to the
very parties and lawyers who may appear before them in court," stated
Opponents had asked the
Supreme Court to evaluate the North
Carolina program last month, following the Court's
recent decision in Davis v. FEC - even though that case did not address
the public financing of judicial campaigns.
As the Brennan Center
stated in its legal brief,
the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' decision was a thorough evaluation of the
program. It held "that the provisions challenged . . .embody North
Carolina's effort to protect th[e] vital interest in an independent judiciary,
[and] are within the limits placed on the state by the First Amendment."
"Without the very modest
and straightforward solution offered by North
Carolina's judicial public funding program, special
interest competition for influence with judges could imperil the impartiality
of the state's judges. North Carolina's
citizens today have won a victory and will get to keep their system of public
funding," stated MacCleery.
BACKROUND ON NORTH CAROLINA'S SYSTEM
FOR ELECTING JUDGES
In 2002, North Carolina became the first state to
enact a voluntary public financing program for appellate judicial campaigns. In
2005, two potential judicial candidates and two political committees filed a
complaint in federal court charging that the State's public financing law
generally, and some provisions in particular, violated the First Amendment and
the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Center and the State of North Carolina won
dismissal of the challenge on March 30, 2007, and the plaintiffs
appealed. On December 7, 2007, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard
oral argument in the case and the three-judge panel unanimously affirmed the
dismissal. The opinion may be found here.
The North Carolina program has been popular and
greatly reduced the amount of special interest money in recent judicial races.
In the 2006 judicial elections, 9 out of 12 candidates on the general election
ballot tried to qualify for funds, and 8 succeeded. Democrats, Republicans,
men, women, African-Americans, incumbents and challengers participated in the
program. According to a report on the system by Democracy North Carolina,
judicial candidates in the 2002 general election received 73 percent of their
non-family campaign money from attorneys, special-interest PACs, and other
political committees. This figure dropped to 14 percent for all candidates in
the 2004 general election, which was the first under the new public funding
Following this trial run of
the North Carolina system for judicial elections, a 2005 poll conducted by
American Viewpoint, a Republican polling firm, found that 74 percent of North
Carolina voters approved of continuing the system, while only 18 percent
opposed its continuation. According to a recent North Carolina Center for Voter
Education survey, 80% of voters are concerned about the impact that campaign
spending by outside groups has on campaigns for state and local office.
In addition to its public
funding program for State Supreme Court and Court of Appeals candidates, this
election year North Carolina is also piloting a public financing program for
three of the state's Council of State seats.
Other public funding
programs around the country include Connecticut's, where 84% of the state's
legislative candidates are participating in the inaugural year of a Clean Elections
system. In Arizona, nine of 11 state-wide officials, including Gov. Janet
Napolitano (D-Ariz.), have run under the Clean Elections program and in Maine,
84 percent of the state legislature won their offices as Clean Elections
candidates. In total, some form of public financing is operating in seven
states and two cities.
Visit the Brennan Center Web site for more
court documents and background on the case, click here.