Torts and Detriments

Campaign contributors gave over $9 million to the two candidates for Illinois’ last open Supreme Court seat. That dollar figure, more than six times the cost of the previous Supreme Court race, shattered national records, and was all the more striking because the race was in the state’s least populated Supreme Court district (only 566,000 ballots were cast there; contrast that with the 1 million ballots in the Second District, and 1.4 million in the First).

Most of that money came from groups that support or oppose tort reform. And as the Tribune points out this morning, it’s hard not to wonder if that money influences the Court's rulings.

The Trib quotes Ed Murnane, whose Civil Justice League gave over a million to support the winning candidate and who filed a brief in the Philip Morris case, as saying, "Karmeier's election changed the vote." And he may be right.

But even if Murnane’s candidate had lost, the same story could be written about the Philip Morris decision. Had the other guy won, observers would wonder if the millions in personal injury trial lawyer money had swayed the Court.

These questions will continue to come up whenever the Court rules on a high profile case involving personal injuries. You will not see these stories about divorce cases, or juvenile law, or wills and estates, or criminal convictions. That’s because divorce lawyers, and criminal attorneys, and the rest, played no significant role in the 2004 election. Tort cases make up a small share of the Court’s docket, but accounted for nearly all of the campaign money. Take away the millions of dollars in contributions from special interests, and the Court will have room to issue decisions without the criticism that campaign donors called the tune.