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Friday, November 7, 2008

Are Business Interests Still Buying Judgeships in the Deep South?

With a landslide win for Barack Obama in the presidential race and significant gains for Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate, progressives certainly had quite a bit to like about Tuesday's election.

But the news is not all cheery, particularly when it comes to judicial races in the Deep South.

If you wanted to select the most mind-boggling result from around the nation on Tuesday, I would nominate the Alabama Supreme Court race between Democrat Deborah Bell Paseur and Republican Greg Shaw.

Shaw appears to have won the race with a lead of about 12,000 out of two million cast. But some 10,000 provisional votes remain to be counted around the state, and they could trigger a recount under state law. Paseur has refused to concede, and the Alabama Secretary of State says the outcome might not be decided until state canvassing boards meet on November 25.

Why is this result mind-boggling? Consider the backdrop against which the race was run:

In November 2007, the Alabama Supreme Court overturned most of a $3.6-billion fraud verdict against oil giant ExxonMobil and in favor of the state of Alabama. The ruling featured an 8-1 vote along party lines, with Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb (the court's only Democrat) casting the dissenting vote.

Not only was the ExxonMobil ruling contrary to facts and law in the case, we have suggested that the eight Republicans behind it committed federal crimes. Here is another post on that subject.

What impact has the ExxonMobil ruling had on Alabama, at a time when the Bush economy is going in the tank? We addressed that topic in this post.

Now consider Shaw's background:

* He has accepted campaign loans and contributions from his family business, Shaw Oil Company;

* He received substantial support from the Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF), a conservative, pro-business outfit based in Virginia. CFIF reportedly has connections to the oil, tobacco, and gaming industries;

* A top consultant for Shaw has been Terry Benham, of the Livingston Group, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm with strong ties to the oil and gas industries.

The bottom line? In Shaw, you have a Republican candidate supported by the kind of pro-business interests who have given heavily to other conservative judges on the Alabama Supreme Court--the same justices who issued the ExxonMobil that cost Alabama some $3 billion.

And yet more than a million Alabama voters went to the polls and cast ballots for Shaw. With these votes, Alabamians seemed to be saying, "We don't have a problem with judges who unlawfully overturn jury verdicts and cost our state billions of dollars. In fact, we like such judges, and we want to add one more to our Supreme Court."

How to explain such irrational thinking? My best guess is tribalism, American style.

Similar thinking also prevails next door in Mississippi. Larisa Alexandrovna of at-Largely reports that Oliver Diaz was defeated in his bid for re-election to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The title of Alexandrovna's report? "Chamber of Commerce Finishes Buying Up MS Supremes . . . "

Diaz is a moderate Republican in a state that has nonpartisan judicial elections. He evidently made the mistake of not being sufficiently pro-business to suit right wingers, so he was targeted twice for prosecution in connection with the Paul Minor case. Both times, Diaz was acquitted.

When federal prosecutions did not remove Diaz from the bench, the Chamber of Commerce types apparently backed his opponent at election time. As a result, a fellow named Bubba Price (I'm not making this name up, folks) replaces Diaz on the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Price defeated Diaz 58 to 42 percent and outspent him by roughly $150,000, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Do you think the Bush Justice Department had an impact on this race? Consider that one of Diaz' biggest supporters would have been attorney Paul Minor. But Minor is in federal prison for campaign-finance crimes he did not commit.

Not only was Diaz deprived of Minor's support, but a rational observer has to think that other would-be contributors saw what had happened to Minor and decided to pass on supporting the Diaz campaign.

As Scott Horton of Harper's.org has reported, the motive behind the Minor prosecution apparently was to dry up financial support so that pro-consumer and other progressive candidates could not compete against candidates supported by business interests.

Looks like it worked.

Is there a silver lining in all of this? Alexandrovna sees one:

I am not finished with my investigative series into the political corruption of the Chamber, the DOJ, and abuses in MS, Alabama, Ohio, and GA. I am not remotely finished and Justice Bubba is going to be under a microscope as is the rest of his court.

Oh, I did mention that soon there will be new US Attorneys, right? Imagine actual, honest, decent US Attorneys replacing the corrupt puppets like Dunnica Lampton (MS), Leura Canary (AL), and Alice Martin (AL). So now the law will finally take a gander at the evidence against the Chamber, these corrupt US Attorneys, and the corrupt politicians the Chamber has installed into office. Like I said Justice Bubba, I am watching.