Partisan elections for Alabama’s highest courts are out of control. The money that has been spent over the past 15 years on Supreme Court races in Alabama is obscene and definitely calls into question whether Alabamians are electing “fair and impartial” justices to our highest court.
Alabama spends far more than any other state to elect candidates to our top court posts. Between 1993 and 2006, candidates for Alabama’s top state court posts spent more than $48 million. In 2006 alone, 15 candidates in Alabama spent more than $13 million. The next closest state during the same time period was Texas. In comparison, Texas which has almost 5 times the population and ranks 20 states ahead of Alabama in per capita income, spent $28 million ($20 million less than Alabama) on campaigns for its top judicial posts and in 2006 spent around $3 million. So, despite what they say, not everything is bigger in Texas.
Spending tremendous sums of money on partisan judicial campaigns erodes peoples’ faith in the independence of the Judicial Branch and can eventually threaten democracy, which is dependent upon independent courts. Alabama should scrap partisan judicial elections. State Circuit and District Court races should be non-partisan. For our Appellant Courts, Alabama should adopt a form of merit selection, where governors would chose from qualified candidates nominated by an independent, bi-partisan commission. Most states have dropped partisan judicial elections, and we should do so as well.