For Immediate Release
Friday, February 3, 2006
Dorothee Benz, 212 998–6318
Deborah Goldberg, 212 998–6748
Elected Judges and Their Campaign Contributors: Brennan Center Urges Supreme Court to Set Rules for When They Meet in Court
New York, NY Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, along with co-counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to review Avery v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co.. The case involves an Illinois Supreme Court justice who was asked to recuse himself because of large donations made by individuals and organizations affiliated with State Farm, declined to do so, and then ruled in favor of State Farm in a case before the court. The brief was filed on behalf of 12 organizations committed to ensuring fair and impartial courts.
The petition for review of Avery is the fallout from the most expensive state judicial campaign in United States history, the 2004 race for Illinois Supreme Court justice. Illinois Appellate Judge Gordon Maag and then-circuit Judge Lloyd Karmeier raised a total of approximately $9.3 million in political contributions nearly double the previous national record for a state judicial election. Karmeier, who received over $350,000 in direct contributions from State Farms employees, lawyers and others, and over $1 million more from groups of which State Farm was a member or to which it contributed, won both the fundraising battle and the election. Justice Karmeier then declined to recuse himself from Avery, which had been pending before the Illinois Supreme Court during the campaign. In the case, Justice Karmeier cast the decisive vote reversing a lower courts breach of contract verdict of over $450 million against State Farm.
The brief discusses two national trends that cry out for the Courts review of this case, said Deborah Goldberg, Director of the Brennan Centers Democracy Program. At the same time that increased judicial campaign fundraising threatens the integrity and impartiality of our judges, attacks on canons of judicial ethics are eroding traditional due process safeguards for parties who come before the courts. The amicus brief urges the Supreme Court to provide guidance as to the circumstances in which recusal from a case is required under the Constitution.
The Avery amicus brief is a product of the Brennan Centers Fair Courts Project, which works to preserve fair and impartial courts and their role as the ultimate guarantor of equal justice in our constitutional democracy. Last week, the Fair Courts Project won a landmark case, Lopez-Torres v. NYS Board of Elections, which enjoined New Yorks unique convention system for selecting trial court judges. The court ruled that the system allows political parties to select nominees, in violation of New Yorkers constitutional right to cast a meaningful vote. For more information on these Fair Courts cases and on the Brennan Centers other initiatives see www.brennancenter.org.