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Rash of Negative Ads in Court Races Bring “New Politics of Judicial Elections” to Washington State

September 8, 2006

For Immediate Release
September 8, 2006

Contact Information
Susan Lehman
212 998–6813

Rash of Negative Ads in Court Races Bring “New Politics of Judicial Elections” to Washington State

New York, NY Two national watchdog groups today warned that voters may be more turned off than properly informed if advertising in the states Supreme Court races continues to degenerate into mudslinging between rival interest groups. A series of recently unveiled advertising efforts by interest groups include some negative spots that wont educate or inform voters, the groups said, but rather serve to misinform voters about the proper role of the courts.

As the election approaches, Washingtons judicial candidates should take the high road and ensure that the races do not degenerate as others have around the country, said Deborah Goldberg, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. Negative ads from special interest groups should be denounced by the candidates as contrary to the value of fairness they stand for as potential judges.

A series of new ads, both radio and television, hit the airwaves in recent days across Washington state:

  • A TV ad airing by an independent group identified as Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse—an interest group based in20Virginia—attacks Chief Justice Gerry Alexander by saying that The Andress decision let my sons killer walk free-..if Justice Alexander hadnt voted for this decision, this wouldnt have happened. Four other judges agreed with Alexanders majority vote.

  • A radio ad paid for by the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) focuses on the age of Chief Justice Alexander: When it’s your time, you know it. You’re tired, you get sloppy, you make mistakes. Take Chief Justice Gerry Alexander, he’s been a judge since Nixon was president. In recent years, Alexander has not only lost a step or two, he’s done real damage.”

  • A separate radio ad paid for a group called Constitution First charges that Marriage is under attack in Washington state.” The ad attacks Justice Tom Chambers20for his vote in a recent same-sex marriage case, even though the same-sex marriage ban was upheld by the Washington Supreme Court earlier this year.
A 2005 analysis by the Brennan Center and Justice at Stake shows that 58 percent of the attack ads in the 2004 state Supreme Court campaigns nationwide were sponsored by outside groups (31 percent were paid for by a political party, and only 11 percent by the candidates themselves).

Attack ads seek to pressure courts to answer to special interests instead of the law and the constitution, said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan national campaign working to keep American courts fair and impartial.

Interest groups have also been busy trying to corner candidates through aggressive questionnaireslike that developed by the Faith and Freedom Network which asked judicial candidates to give their views on three U.S. Supreme Court decisions and then issued a pass/fail grade based on their answers.

Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center support voter education efforts such as those developed by the sponsors of, which place a premium on candidate qualifications and experience rather than their personal views on hot button political or legal issues they may have to rule on.