tv Ali Velshi on Target Al Jazeera August 13, 2015 1:30am-2:01am EDT
major retailers. things may only change if enough travelers decide to save their money for when they get to their destination. more news on our website, there it is on your screen, the address www.aljazeera.com. >> i'm ali velshi. "on target" tonight, campaign tonight, campaign contributions to get elected, how can they stay ing independent? and more mainstream than ever. tonight we're putting judicial elections on trial. that's because the honor of some american judges is being jeopardized by the potentially corrupting influence of politics and money. in some states judges have to pay for election campaigns to win seats on the bench meaning
they take financial contributions from donors, donors who may one day appear in the winning judge's court. to understand what i'm talking about let's talk about how judges win seats on state sprorts. supreme courts. the 28 just in red appoint judges, after that they are set for life or face uncontested elections, this is not where voters worry about money polluting election, the 13 states in orange they've got so-called nonpartisan elections where judges are listed on ballots without party affiliation but then there are the nine states in gray. they have partisan elections where judges run under a party affiliation in primary or general elections. pennsylvania where i am tonight is one of those states in gray. this is where the debate over money and integrity really matters mainly because of those nine states marked in gray.
spending on state supreme court elections has skyrocketed. it went from $83 million in the ten years between 1990 and 1999, to $207 million in the decade from 2000 to 2009. and alabama someone of the states moving that money needle. it's one of the biggest that'siest elections took place back in 2006. sue bell cobb won the seat that year, but since retiring in 2011 she has come out with a bold charge that a judge receiving money from a donor cannot be expected to be impartial when that donor appears in his or her court. she says it's become a system of money for justice. chief justice sue bell cobb was a supreme court justice in alabama for four years before she retired.
>> you're due again. >> her sweet talking granted us access inside the alabama state supreme court room, a place where news cameras aren't often welcome. >> i remember when i was sworn in as chief justice of the supreme court. >> in 2006 cobb won what was at the time the most hotly contested and expensive election in u.s. history. >> what we were able to raise was $2.6 million. which is a huge amount. >> her opponent spent more than $5 million in that race. only recently, cobb has become a whistle blower of sorts, speaking out against the vast amounts of money it takes for a judge to get elected to state supreme court. >> do you want your courts to be filled with people that have had to spend a significant amount of their time trying raise money so they can keep this job and then expect them to make decisions not impacted by it?
>> in the last decade 537 judicial candidates raised more than $206 million for elections. the majority of that money came from just a handful of states in which supreme court judges run as either democrats or republicans. >> i don't think that's a coincidence. i think it's because whether you have candidates running in partisan races i think that campaign donors feel like they have a clear idea of how that judge might rule. >> all of these states have had particular episodic instances in which one or more major contribute oarcontributors to al campaign really was able to swing an election or at least come very close to it. >> chief justice cobb ran as the only democrat on the ticket and says party affiliation should have no role in her job as a judge. >> i'm forced day in and day out
as many judges around this nation on laws i don't personally agree, it doesn't matter what i think of it, it mattered not a a wit, not at all. >> most voters who know very little about judicial candidates, that r or that d next to a candidate's name is a significant piece of useful information. >> i appreciate that very much. thank you. >> judge david wett is running as a democrat for pennsylvania's supreme court. it's being held as a significant election, three republicans and three democrats running for an unpresunprecedented three seats. press conference for exactly one camera, ours.
>> all right, good afternoon owner and thank you very much for joining us here today. >> it's not easy getting media attention for a judicial election. voters don't seem to care so tv ads are crucial. >> i'll restore pennsylvaniaians faith in the supreme court. >> i aim to do you proud. thank you very much. >> each candidate in the general election to be viable will be required to raise and spend well over $1 million, perhaps over $2 million. >> so far judge wecht has been endorsed by state senators and representatives even the mayor of pittsburgh and major contributions from big unions as well as $200,000 from attorneys and law firms. >> there's got to be something fundamentally wrong with a system that basically requires
judges to raise tons of money, and seek political endorsements from attorneys and special interest groups and others who might have a case before them once elected. >> about judge wecht says he didn't pick the system. he just has to find a way to exist ethically within the system. >> there's no perfect system and i'm not so enamored of one way to select a judge, that i should convince you of one system. >> judge wecht says he has nothing to hide, since two of the three open seats on the pennsylvania supreme court are up for grabs because judges resigned after major scandals. effort to sway voters' minds can take a less than honorable turn in elections.
>> he called her a total (bleep). >> especially as pac money enters, spending money on behalf of the candidates on attack ads against their opponents. >> the first system that we had when we became a nation was that the king appointed our judges. the governors then appointed the judges. and during president jackson's era the reform was to go to the citizens electing them. but now, because of the obscene amounts of money that are in judicial elections it's like the money has now become the king. >> up next, trust in judges and the courts may be eroding because of the perception of justice for sale. when i come back, we'll explore alternatives to ensure that we've got fair and impartial judges on the bench. >> i don't really know what's going to happen to me. >> oscar winner alex gibney's hard-hitting series, "edge of eighteen". >> i'm never going to apologize
>> tonight we're putting judicial elections on trial. critics worry that state judges taking campaign contributions from donors can't be completely impartial if those donors end up one day in their courts. that needs the perception that money is buying justice but the view is that elections are the most transparent way to select judges. joining me now to dispute that is lynn mark, the executive director of pennsylvaniaians for modern courts, it's a watchdog group. thank you for being here. pennsylvania is one of these nine saits in gray where you have partisan elections for judges. >> right. >> the fact is most people who are entitled or qualified to vote for a judge are not going to ever appear in fronts of that judge. and the concept of electing judges was seen when it started as being more fair than the old system where people got
appointed and no one was accountable for their appointments. >> there was a huge change back in the 1850s. that's a long time ago, with the jacksonian democracy where these systems, judges were appointed. >> and people didn't think that seemed fair. >> and then they went to elected judges. the controversy has really increased more and more as there's been big money in judicial races. there's always been big money and growing money, the executive and legislative branch but there's more and more coming into judicial races and it's even increasing after the citizens united case. >> and the bottom line is it's easier to win. if you have a million dollars to donate to a campaign to fund a campaign in a congressional campaign that may be of great influence. in a judicial race it will win the race for you. >> one of the things again we're used to money in the other races. but it's important to remember, judges are different.
judges make decisions based solely on the facts and the law in an individual case and not according to what they've said in the campaign trail or what the contributors wanted. it's really different from a congress person or a president or a governor or a legislator who run on platforms and they have constituencies and that's why we vote for them and they have a slew of donors but for jucial race judicial races, most of the donors come from the lawyers. >> why a judge makes a statistician in a particular case, there are so many reasons why they might make a decision. one of the things we looked at, we had the american judicial society do a study for us, a
while back just to see not whether judges made the decisions according to campaign contributions but to have a sense of how many of the lures and litigants appearing before the pennsylvania supreme court gave money to the judges. and over 60% of the lawyers involved in the court cases gave money -- >> these guys are getting solicited by the judges who are running by some cases, you have got a doubly awkward situation, where even a lawyer who doesn't want to donate is getting called. that is where you are between a rock and a hard place. >> there is a rule here that says a judge, if i'm running i can't ask you ali directly for a contribution but i can have my campaign chair right next to me, my campaign chair can ask you for a donation. i'm not blaming the judges, i'm
not tblaimg lawyers but the system. -- blaming the lawyers but blaming the system. it's important to get the judges out of the fundraising business. former supreme court justice san drai day sandra day o'connor said, we have to get judges out of the elections system. after the term the judge goes before the people and a yes-no retention nonpartisan vote on whether or not that judge should stay on the bench for a full term. and in these states in most of the states there is some kind of judicial performance evaluation, some kind of nonpartisan
evaluation to inform voters of how that judge has been on the bench. not necessarily how they've ruled in a particular case but are they respected by the lawyers and litigants who come before them? are there reasoned decisions? are they respectful, a whole slew of things not just yes you like them or you don't like them. but in a merit selection system, the most port part is that it puts a premium on qualifications. what matters is, qualifications and a reputation for fairness and impartiality. not who's a good campaigner, not somebody who happens to have a familiar name, not somebody who happens to have a good place on the ballot or comes from the region where there's the highest turnout. >> nice to have you with us, thanks for talking with us. up next, heavily armed men