Press release from the Center for American Progress; July 31, 2014:
To: Interested Parties
From: Center for American Progress, Legal Progress
Re: National Right-Wing Groups Target Tennessee Judiciary
On August 7, Tennesseans will decide whether three Supreme Court judges appointed by Governor Phil Bredesen (D), along with other appellate judges, stay on the bench. Governor Bill Haslam (R) will fill any vacancy should the Supreme Court judges lose.
This election has obvious implications for Tennessee citizens, but national conservative groups are using it as a clarion call for the right wing agenda. That is why the Republican State Leadership Committee, or RSLC, and the Koch brothers-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, or AFP, have joined the race.
Right wing to spend millions to make sure courts put corporations over middle class families in Tennessee
The president of the RSLC said it plans to spend “north of $5 million” to elect judges this year, including more than $200,000 so far in Tennessee. With one week left in the race, the RSLC could be the biggest player in the Tennessee Supreme Court election.
The RSLC has not shied away from sharing their goal: protecting their radical, right wing agenda that puts corporations over middle class families. According to RSLC’s president, “Republicans have had a significant amount of success at the state level, not only being elected to offices but implementing bold conservative solutions… Unfortunately, that’s running into a hard stop with judges who aren’t in touch with the public.”
The “bold conservative” policies that have been challenged in court include legislation that disenfranchises voters, keeps injured citizens from filing lawsuits, and cuts essential services like health care and education. After the RSLC helped elect Republican legislators in Tennessee and North Carolina, the state legislatures passed two of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws.
In order to protect the agendas of GOP politicians, the RSLC has become the first national party organization focused on electing judges. It’s not just the RSLC. Americans for Prosperity are also running ads criticizing three Tennessee Supreme Court justices who are on the ballot on August 7.
The RSLC has done this before
Tennessee is not the only state in which the RSLC has spent millions of dollars trying to influence judicial elections. North Carolina is another prime example. In North Carolina, four out of seven seats are up for grabs in November. It is the first election in more than a decade in which candidates have no access to public financing.
The RSLC was the biggest spender in the May 5 primary election for the North Carolina Supreme Court. Its money funded ads attacking an incumbent justice for being “soft” on “child predators,” citing her dissent in one case. During the 2012 election, as the North Carolina Supreme Court was deliberating in the redistricting lawsuit, RSLC spent more than $1 million to keep the court’s 4-3 conservative majority in place. And then Justice Paul Newby, who benefited from the RSLC’s money, refused to recuse himself in the redistricting lawsuit.
The RSLC is seeking to use judicial elections to promote its right-wing agenda at the expense of middle class Tennesseans. After helping elect conservative legislators, the RSLC saw those legislators roll back the clock on voting rights, limit access to justice, and allow more money in politics. Citizens are challenging many of these statutes in state courts, but the RSLC is spending millions of dollars to ensure that their legislators’ agendas are not thwarted by the courts. The RSLC wants state courts that will serve as rubber stamps for legislatures. Citizens would be better served by independent courts that decide each case based on the facts and the law, not politics or partisanship.