justice for sale

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Seattle Post-Intelligencer John Levasque

"...Correspondent Bill Moyers, who happens to be president of a foundation trying to change campaign-finance laws, focuses on Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Texas, first pointing out how ridiculously expensive it is for candidates to campaign in these states, and then zeroing in on cases that hinged on the question of judicial integrity in the wake of vigorous campaign support by special interests.

Whether or not you think Moyers has a conflict of interest--I think he does--'Justice for Sale' fires a stunning warning shot: Although the framers of the Constitution didn't picture it this way, 39 states now elect judges at one level or another. In some places, it's still a courtly pursuit where the candidates spend very little money trying to get elected. But in others, it has gotten uglier than AM talk radio.

In terms of cost, U.S. Suprme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy assesses the problem articulately: 'If there is the perception or the reality that courts are influenced in their decisions based upon campaign funding sources, we will have a crisis of legitimacy, a crisis of belief, a crisis of confidence.'

But former Texas Supreme Court Judge Bob Gammage, who resigned the bench rather than be politicized, says it like a Texan: 'If you don't dance with them that brung you, you may not be there for the next dance.'"

New Orleans Times-Picayune Mark Lorando

"...Tuesday's episode of 'Frontline' ... a thoroughly enlightening view of Louisiana from the outside looking in.

In 'Justice for Sale,' Bill Moyers examines the widespread but problematic practice of electing rather than appointing state judges. And he finds the perfect illustration of its potential pitfalls in Louisiana. Specifically, in the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic's successful 1997 legal fight against the proposed Shintech chemical plant near Convent, LA, and Gov. Mike Foster's subsequent fight against Tulane University.

Locals may have viewed the story as Politics As Usual: Popular governor uses the power of the office to exact his revenge on a political nemesis. (Yawn.)

But Moyers' take on the story is fascinatingly fresh in the context of his overarching argument that the judicial process is tainted by judges forced to politick for their jobs.

...Like his last PBS special on campaign finance reform, this one features not a single dissenting voice. If 39 states have decided judges should be elected, is there not one person in one of those states able to articulate why voting for judges is preferable to appointing them?

Not here. Moyers makes a compelling case against states that force judges to wage popularity campaigns. But he leaves reasonable doubt as to whether we've heard both sides."

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