Judges for rent

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"Hauled into court alongside Representative Tom DeLay, the Texas judicial system is also on trial," writes Ralph Blumenthal in today's New York Times. And it should be, since, as Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, points out in the piece, "Judges in Texas swing the gavel with one hand and take money with the other."

But as big as Texas is, the problem is much bigger than just Texas.

Thirty-eight states have elections for their Supreme Courts, and in the 2000 elections, candidates for these seats raised $45.6 million, a 61% increase over 1998, and double the amount they raised in 2004, according to a report by Justice At Stake and the Brennan Center. The average state Supreme Court candidate in 2000 raised $430,529, and 16 of them raised more than $1 million. At least half of this cash came from lawyers and business interests, the groups that have more than a civic interest in how judicial decisions are made.

When a problem is systemic, the solution must be systemic, too. We need public financing for judicial races around the country, so that the kind of political shenanigans we've seen in Texas courtrooms over the last few weeks don't take place. And why stop there? We need full public financing for legislative races, too. If we had that, it would go a long way toward eliminating the policy-for-politics deals exposed in the scandals surrounding Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, and company. We may enjoy our work here at the Daily DeLay, but we'd rather we were out of a job. To read more about how full public financing, or Clean Elections, works, go here (pdf).