On Sunday Clarion Ledger reporter Jerry Mitchell examined Mississippi’s partisan ‘nonpartisan’ judicial elections. The article concluded with this happy thought from legal pioneer and former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson:

Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson also favors appointing judges and wishes Mississippi could select judges similar to the federal system.

He called the state’s system of electing judges “a broke system, but I’m not optimistic it will ever change.”

It’s true. All of it. [Sorry, I’ve been watching The Force Awakens].

Here is a summary of stats from the article:

  • 75% of people believe that campaign contributions influence court decisions
  • 50% of judges believe that campaign contributions influence court decisions
  • 100% of the former Mississippi Supreme Court Justices quoted in the story lamented the current system.

The stat regarding 50% of judges believing that contributions influence decisions is–by far–the most disturbing. Imagine if 50% of NFL referees believed that gifts or the like influenced calls. Stephen A. Smith would get so hot on ESPN that his hair would catch on fire.

But when that’s the perception of the judicial system by judges? It wasn’t even followed up on in Mitchell’s article.

One of the focal points of the article was the attack ads against Justice Jim Kitchens in the latest Supreme Court elections. $1 million was spent on the ads funded by the Koch brothers, tobacco lobby and other anti-plaintiff interests. It’s hard to figure out why these groups bothered for at least two reasons.

First, Justice Kitchens has been a moderate justice who often votes for the defendant in unanimous opinions in civil cases. What big and important 5-4 decisions have there been where Justice Kitchens’ vote made the difference? I can’t think of any.

Second, there isn’t anything going on in state court litigation in Mississippi that explains the interest from outside groups. Not only are major civil cases not making it to the Supreme Court–they aren’t getting filed. This leaves me wondering whether the organizations contributing the money for the ads are getting fleeced by people who make money in the political ad industry.

If it’s your job to raise and spend money on judicial races around the country, are you going to shut your operation down because the organizations who you are raising money from aren’t really threatened by state court litigation? Probably not.

I agree that the appointment of judges is also political. But Article III judges in the federal system only face the politics of appointment one time. Once appointed, they don’t have to worry about the Koch Brothers coming after them because of a decision. That’s a big difference from the current elected system for state court judges.