According to a national study by the nonpartisan Justice at Stake Campaign and other organizations, candidates in Alabama’s three Supreme Court races in 2010 raised more money than in any other state. Even though spending nationwide was down in 2010 due to the slow economy, Alabama’s Supreme Court races continued to lead the nation in fundraising by candidates. Alabama has had the most expensive judicial elections in the country since 2000.
Candidates for the Alabama Supreme Court alone raised $4.3 million in 2010. This year’s outsized spending is part of a decade-long trend of expensive and increasingly politicized judicial races in Alabama, which is one of only a handful of states where judges are selected in partisan contests.
From 2000-2009, Alabama candidates spent $43.6 million on state supreme court campaigns — the highest in the nation. Election money created a far more business-friendly Alabama Supreme Court because, according to a 2010 report by the Brennan Center, “a select club of state and national special interests emerged to bankroll Supreme Court elections and fundamentally reshape the court.”
Alabama’s high-priced judicial elections are particularly problematic in the context of the death penalty because of judicial override. Fueled by “tough on crime” rhetoric in partisan judicial elections, judicial override in Alabama is on the rise. More than a quarter of Alabama’s current death row prisoners were condemned to death by an elected judge through override of a jury life verdict.