Skip Navigation
Archive

Brennan Center Urges 4th Circuit to Uphold Public Financing System for Statewide Judicial Elections

In a case with national implications for the election of judges, the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit today considered the fate of North Carolina's public campaign finance system for statewide judicial elections. Enacted in 2002, North Carolina's program was the first full public campaign finance system for statewide judicial elections in the nation. Related Case: Jackson v. Leake

December 8, 2007

For Immediate Release: Friday, December 7, 2007

Contact: Jonathan Rosen, BerlinRosen Public Affairs (646) 452-5637

Brennan Center Urges 4th Circuit to Uphold America's First Full Public Campaign Finance System for Statewide Judicial Elections

Groundbreaking North Carolina Campaign Finance Law Would Take Special Interests Out of Judicial Selection

Richmond - In a case with national implications for the election of judges, the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit today considered the fate of North Carolina's public campaign finance system for statewide judicial elections.   Enacted in 2002, North Carolina's program was the first full public campaign finance system for statewide judicial elections in the nation.  This year, New Mexico also enacted a full public financing system for candidates for its Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.

Arguing on behalf of North Carolina Common Cause and Ronnie Ansley, a trial attorney from Wake Forest who ran unsuccessfully for the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2004, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law urged the court to uphold the October decision by Judge W. Earl Britt of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina dismissing a challenge to the law for failure to state a claim.

The October ruling spurred efforts to enact similar proposals in other states and the outcome of today's proceedings will be closely watched by legislatures across the country.  In addition to the creation of a full public financing program in New Mexico earlier this year, state legislatures in Illinois, Montana and Wisconsin are currently considering full or partial public financing of appellate court elections in their states. Washington State also considered a similar proposal this year.

"Across the country trial lawyers, big business and other special interests are spending big money to elect their favored candidates to some of our state's highest courts. As a result, we see increasing evidence that voters are losing faith in the notion that justice is really blind," said Deborah Goldberg, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

"North Carolina's system is a model for any state seeking to rein in out-of-control judicial campaigns. We hope that the 4th Circuit will uphold Judge Britt's ruling and help improve the integrity of judicial elections in North Carolina and across the country," continued Goldberg.

In 2002, North Carolina enacted a voluntary full public financing program for candidates running for seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court and the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Under the program, known as the North Carolina Public Campaign Financing Fund, candidates for appellate courts who collect qualifying contributions in amounts ranging from $10 - $500 from at least 350 registered voters receive public funds for their campaign. The program is funded with annual $50 contributions from active members of the North Carolina State Bar and an optional $3 check-off on state income tax returns.

In 2004, 12 of 16 candidates for the North Carolina Supreme Court and the North Carolina Court of Appeals (including four of the five winners) opted into the public financing system - forgoing private campaign money beyond their initial qualifying contributions. According to an analysis by the North Carolina State Court system, public funds made up 64% of the financing in those races. In 2006, eight of 12 candidates took part in the Public Campaign Fund, with five of six winners participating in the program.

Four plaintiffs, including two judges - Barbara Jackson, a sitting judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Wilton R. "Rusty" Duke, a North Carolina Superior Court judge who ran unsuccessfully for the Supreme Court in 2006 - and the North Carolina Right to Life Committee Fund for Independent Political Expenditures ("IEPAC"), and North Carolina Right to Life State Political Action Committee ("SPAC") sued to strike down the law. The plaintiffs challenged the law's disclosure requirements, the source of funds for the public financing program, a rule prohibiting any contributions in the 21 days proceeding an election, as well as a provision in the law granting participants in the public financing system extra campaign funds to counter spending by a candidate not participating in the program or an organization engaged in an independent expenditure campaign against the participating candidate or on behalf of their opponent.

In addition to its work in North Carolina, the Brennan Center has successfully defended state public financing laws Maine and is currently defending public campaign finance programs in Connecticut and Arizona.

To read the appellant's brief challenging the law click here.

To read the October 2006 decision of the District Court click here.

30-30-30