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New Politics of Judicial Elections 2006: Realplayer

Published: November 7, 2006

Alabama became the state to watch early in the 2006 election cycle, when incumbent Chief Justice Drayton Nabers and his opponent, Justice Tom Parker, took to the television airwaves before the June 6 Republican primary.  Justice Parker ran this ad criticizing Chief Justice Nabers for following U.S. Supreme Court precedent and striking down the death penalty for a juvenile.

Chief Justice Nabers won the primary, but went on to face an even tougher general election opponent.  Chief Justice Nabers spent more than $1.9 million on television advertising, making him the biggest spender in the nation, and his opponent, Judge Sue Bell Cobb, placed second with almost $1.4 million.  Chief Justice Nabers ran one ad announcing his views on controversial political issues, while Judge Cobb focused more on her qualifications. On November 7 Judge Cobb narrowly won, with 51.5% of the vote.

While candidates in Alabama went negative before the primary, in Washington State special interest groups began attacking the candidates for chief justice leading up to the September 19 primary election.  Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse, a national interest group based in Virginia that opposed incumbent Chief Justice Gerry Alexander, ran an ad featuring a mother whose son had been murdered saying, The Andress decision let my sons killer walk free-..if Justice Alexander hadnt voted for this decision, this wouldnt have happened.  Its Time for a Change, a political action committee affiliated with the Building Industry Association of Washington, ran another ad criticizing Chief Justice Alexander for supporting a fellow justice who had been arrested for drunk driving.  In response to the attacks on Chief Justice Alexander, Citizens to Uphold the Constitution, a coalition of labor, environmental, tribal, and trial lawyers, ran an ad painting Alexanders opponent, John Groen, as a conservative extremist.

Negative advertising was not just limited to Alabama and Washington State.  In Nevada, a front group known as Nevadans Against Judicial Activists, ran an ad criticizing incumbent Justice Nancy Becker that said, With the stroke of a pen, Justice Nancy Becker ignored your vote and violated the law.  In Georgia incumbent Justice Carol Hunstein ran an ad accusing her opponent of trying to steal his mothers money and threatening to kill his sister when she was eight months pregnant.

Despite the influx of negative advertising, there were also good examples of decorous judicial campaigns in 2006.  In Kentucky, for example, Justice Bill Cunningham ran an ad explaining why judges should not take positions on controversial political issues.

Storyboards of all the Supreme Court ads aired in 2006 are available here.  To see a realplayer version of any of the ads not on our website please email Lauren Jones at