The next general election is more than a year away, but one of the men on the state’s highest court has raised $47,000 for his re-election campaign.
Justice Tom Parker, one of three justices up for re-election in 2016, picked up donations from seven law firms and one individual lawyer in July and August. Parker, a Republican who does not yet have any opponents for the Supreme Court seat, is the first statewide candidate to report any fundraising for next year’s elections.
“There’s no way to have elected judges without campaign contributions,” Parker said.
Parker was first elected to the court in 2004. Justices Kelli Wise and Michael Bolin have yet to raise any campaign money, and appear to have no 2016 opponents yet. All nine of the court’s justices are Republicans.
Parker’s top donors include Birmingham lawyer David Marsh and the law firm Hare, Wynn Newell and Newton; each gave $10,000 to Parker’s campaign. All of Parker’s donors to date are lawyers or law firms, and most state on their websites that they’ve argued cases before the Alabama Supreme Court. Attempts to reach spokespeople willing to comment on the donations at all of the firms were unsuccessful Tuesday.
It’s far from unusual for members of Alabama’s highest court to get campaign contributions from lawyers who argue before them. Until recently, Alabama led the nation in campaign spending on Supreme Court races, with $40 million spent on judicial contests between 2000 and 2009.
Critics of electing judges – as opposed to filling court posts by appointment – say the need for campaign money erodes the public’s faith in the judicial system.
“The courts are the one branch of government that really must have the public’s confidence,” said Scott Greytak, a policy analyst for Justice at Stake, a group that advocates for appointed rather than elected judgeships. “If people believe it’s not equal justice for all, they won’t have that confidence.”
Greytak said that contested, partisan races raise the most money. Alabama’s judicial races may no longer fit that description. Chief justice candidates spent more than $4 million in 2012, the year Roy Moore defeated primary challengers and Democratic opponent Robert Vance to win the Chief Justice seat.
In 2014, Associate Justice Greg Shaw ran unopposed, and raised a little more than $41,000.
“There’s a theory that fundraising will be down because this court has essentially been captured,” Greytak said. “After all, it’s all Republican now.”
Parker said he didn’t see any problem with accepting campaign money from lawyers. Under state law, he said, a donation doesn’t require him to disqualify himself from a case unless it involves a donor who provided more than 10 percent of his total campaign funds.
“I just don’t see that being problematic,” he said.
Parker said he supports the idea of an elected Supreme Court. He said the state decided early on – during the “Jacksonian revolution” of the early 1800s – that it wanted an elected judiciary. Long an opponent of same-sex marriage, Parker noted that appointed state courts were the only ones to legalize gay marriage prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in Obergefell v. Hodges.
“I am totally opposed to appointed judges,” Parker said. “With appointments, the decision is all in the back room.
Fundraising for statewide races has been officially open since March, one year prior to the state’s 2016 primaries.