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Alabama Supreme Court elections

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2010 election

There are three contested races for the Alabama Supreme Court in 2010.

For more information on these races, visit:

Alabama judicial elections, 2010

There are three contested Alabama Supreme Court seats in 2010.

Court Seat Incumbent Candidates Candidates
1 Patricia Smith (R): Kelli Wise (D): Rhonda Chambers
2 Michael Bolin (R): Michael Bolin, Tracy W. Cary (D): Tom Edwards Michael Bolin and Tom Edwards will compete in the general election.[1]
3 Tom Parker (R): James R. Houts, Tom Parker, Eric Johnston (D): Mac Parsons Tom Parker and Mac Parsons will compete in the general election.[1]

2008 election

One seat on the Alabama Supreme Court was up for grabs in 2008, with the retirement of Justice Harold See. The two challengers in the partisan election for a six-year term on the court were Deborah Bell Paseur, a Democrat, and Greg Shaw, a Republican. The race was characterized as a contrast of judicial philosophies, with Shaw leaning toward judicial restraint and Paseur leaning toward judicial activism.

The race between Paseur and Shaw was very close, with Shaw ultimately defeating Paseur with a 14,144 vote advantage. The final count was 1,015,330 for Shaw and 1,001,186 for Paseur.[6]

2008 Shaw/Paseur campaign

Radio ad stokes campaign flame

Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse ran a radio ad in the weeks leading up to the Alabama Supreme Court race that criticized Deborah Bell Paseur for her performance as a district judge. The group cited a 1989 report produced by the Administrative Office of Court that said Paseur did not attend to her judicial duties in a timely fashion. A spokesman for the office now denies the report's legitimacy. While Paseur's campaign cried foul, AVALA stood by the accusation, saying the Administrative Official was repaying Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb for appointing him to his position. The spokesman countered:

"To the extent that this 1989 report is attempted to be portrayed as a judgment of any kind regarding the quality of the judicial work performed by Judge Paseur in 1989, that portrayal would also be misleading and inaccurate."[7]

State Bar wants positive campaign

Alabama Bar Association President Mark White asked Democrat Deborah Bell Paseur and Republican Greg Shaw to meet with Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee co-chairman William Gordon "before their race gets out of hand." Paseur's campaign welcomed the meeting, with campaign spokesman Marion Steinfels saying, "Certainly we would like this election to be on the merits of these two candidates and which is best qualified for the position. We think that's what the focus of the campaign is to be and we will meet with anyone who will help us get us back there." Shaw's campaign spokesman, Josh Cooper, responded, "This is a one-campaign problem, a Paseur campaign problem. Judge Shaw has run and continues to run a positive campaign, and we call on Deborah Bell Paseur to immediately stop her negative ads and apologize for the negative and misleading attacks being leveled against Judge Shaw."[8]

Campaign grows in intensity

As November 4 approaches, the campaign for the Court is taking a more aggressive tone. Deborah Bell Paseur started an ad in October to counter an ad complimenting Greg Shaw made by The Center for Individual Freedom, which is based in Virginia. According to, "Paseur's new TV ad says the center is funded by 'the likes of the oil and gas industry' and that the money for the center's ad campaign doesn't come from Alabama."[9]

Paseur is running ads saying she is "the only candidate not backed by the oil companies", a claim which appears to attack Shaw's judicial independence. He responded,
"I have never made a single decision based on anything but the law, and it is reprehensible that my opponent would imply that I could be 'bought.'"[10]

Contradicting Paseur's claim is the Birmingham News which notes that the same "...oil-company interests... as it turned out, had donated money to her campaign."[11]

Paseur opposes judicial elections

At a meeting sponsored by a local chapter of the Federalist Society in August 2008, candidate Paseur said she believes that Alabama should change the way it chooses its justices. Paseur believes that if Alabama adopts some version of commission selection of judges, it will keep politics out of the judiciary.
"Begging for votes and soliciting money is demeaning to the institution of the judiciary. I want to... get politics out of it as much as possible." She also said that when judges are elected, it gives the impression that "justice is for sale."[12]


Judicial philosophy

Judge Paseur's election website doesn't articulate a clear judicial philosophy but notes that she is "a person with a strict devotion to the rule of law, a belief in the opportunity for redemption, a passion to help children succeed, and a love for her country expressed by service to those who dedicate their lives to protect it."[13]


Judicial Philosophy

Judge Shaw articulates a philosophy of judicial restraint, pledging,
"As your next Alabama Supreme Court Justice, I will continue to put my 23 years of appellate experience to use by fairly deciding each case based solely on the law and the facts. I understand that the judicial branch plays an extremely important, but limited, role in our government. It is not a judge’s function to legislate from the bench, and I won’t do it. I will provide a strong conservative voice for you on the Alabama Supreme Court."[14]
"I love the law and I deeply respect the appellate courts of Alabama as institutions of justice. As a judge, I am in the truth-finding business, and to that end I am committed to excellence in the resolution of my cases. I do not leave my common sense at the courthouse door, and I will not sacrifice my principles for anyone or anything. I will simply continue to do what is expected of a judge -- work hard and render a principled decision in each case -- a decision based solely on the law and the facts. It is an honor to serve on your Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, and it would be an honor to continue to serve you on your Alabama Supreme Court."

Campaign warchests

Through mid-September, Shaw reported raising $591,270 and Paseur $521,009. Paseur has received a significant number of contributions from attorneys, including some prominent plaintiff lawyers, the state Democratic Party and organized labor.[15]

Filing requirements

Alabama state law does not require unopposed primary candidates to file financial statements. Shaw's expenditures during the primary period in May totaled $79,000, while Paseur's campaign reported spending $163,000. More than 90 percent of Shaw's campaign contributions so far, about $116,000, have come from PACs funded by pro-business interests, campaign disclosure forms show. Paseur has received $21,000 in PAC money through May, less than 8 percent of her total contributions. About one-third of that money was from labor unions. Overall, Shaw reported about $126,000 in contributions through May, the latest reporting deadline. Paseur had raised $280,000 by then. Paseur's chief fundraiser is Ben Gaines, who filled this role for current Justice Sue Bell Cobb's successful 2006 campaign.[16]

Exxon Mobil ruling

Speculation that an 8-1 November 2007 ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court in favor of Exxon Mobil might have campaign implications hasn't materialized.

In ExxonMobil Corp. v. Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (2007), the Court voided the punitive damages portion of a $3.6 billion jury award that the Montgomery Circuit Court had awarded to Alabama's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The Supreme Court ruled that for the State to be awarded $3.5 billion in punitive damages relating to a fraud claim regarding disputed contractual royalty fees, the State had to prove 1) the defendant had a duty to disclose material facts that 2) were concealed or not disclosed by the defendant, which 3) induced the plaintiff to act 4) to the plaintiff's injury, resulting 5) in actual damage to the plaintiff. On this burden the State failed on multiple grounds, necessitating the reversal of the punitive damages; the State still collected compensatory damages owed to it.

Joe Turnham, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said of the ruling, "People lamented 10 to 15 years ago about tort hell in Alabama," he said. "It's now consumer hell. Big corporations and big oil have bought control of the Supreme Court."[17]

For the full text of the case, see this link.

National focus on campaign contributions

Spending in Alabama judicial races

According to attorney Clay Martin, "Alabama spends far more than any other state to elect candidates to the top court posts." He cites that between 1993 and 2006, candidates for Alabama’s top state court posts spent more than $48 million. In 2006 alone, 15 candidates in Alabama spent more than $13 million. The next closest state during the same time period was Texas. In comparison, Texas which has almost 5 times the population and ranks 20 states ahead of Alabama in per capita income, spent $28 million ($20 million less than Alabama) on campaigns for its top judicial posts and in 2006 spent around $3 million. Martin concludes, "despite what they say, not everything is bigger in Texas."[18]

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Writer Jesse M. Reiter says that over the last several election cycles, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has funded state Supreme Court seats across the country. As a result, he says, many state supreme courts now "favor big business interests. The Chamber's state Supreme Court strategy is simple: "buying a new court... [is] far cheaper than changing the direction of fifty legislatures."[19]

Alabama judicial campaigns

The National Institute on Money in State Politics tracks contributions to state high court candidates. The issue that has come to define the politics of judicial selection in Alabama is tort reform. In the early 1980s, Alabama juries began awarding punitive damages that were substantially larger than those seen in most other states, earning Alabama the moniker "Tort Hell." In 1987, the legislature passed a broad tort-reform package, most of the major provisions of which were subsequently struck down by the Alabama Supreme Court. Contests for seats on the supreme court became a battle between those who supported and opposed tort reform. In recent years, the primary source of campaign funds for supreme court candidates has been PACs associated with the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association and the Business Council of Alabama. One study reports a strong correlation between campaign contributions and judicial decisions in arbitration law cases before the Alabama Supreme Court. Based on an examination of decisions from 1995 to 1999, the author of the study concluded that justices whose campaigns are funded by plaintiffs' lawyers tend to oppose arbitration, while justices whose campaigns are funded by business favor arbitration.

Another study of the 1995 to 1999 period conducted by the National Institute on Money in State Politics found that 63% of the Alabama Supreme Court's cases during that time involved parties or attorneys who had contributed to a winning supreme court candidate before their cases were decided. However, contributors fared only slightly better than non-contributors, and parties and attorneys appearing before the court accounted for only 9% of the $18.4 million raised by candidates during that time. As in several other states, the cost of judicial campaigns has skyrocketed in Alabama in recent years. Since 1993, candidates for seats on Alabama's supreme court have raised $54 million. The 2006 elections saw the most expensive judicial race in state history and the second most expensive in U.S. history, with candidates for the chief justiceship raising $8.2 million. Other than a $500 limit on contributions from corporations, Alabama imposes no limits on campaign contributions.[20]

2006 elections

For the position of Chief Justice, Sue Bell Cobb won over Drayton Nabers, Jr.. In Associate Justice Place 1, Champ Lyons, Jr., incumbent, defeated Ben Hand, an attorney. In Associate Justice Place 2, Tom Woodall, the incumbent, defeated former staff attorney for Justice Parker, Hank Fowler in the Republican primary, and attorney Gwendolyn Thomas Kennedy. In Associate Justice Place 3, incumbent Lyn Stuart defeated Alan Zeigler in the Republican primary, and Democrat Albert Johnson. In Associate Justice Place 4, Glenn Murdock, justice for the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals defeated incumbent Jean Brown as well as Tracy Gwyn BirdSong in the Republican primary, as well as Democrat John England.[21]

2004 elections

In late 2003, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore was removed from the bench for refusing to obey a federal court order to move his 5,300-pound Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. His appeal was rejected in April 2004 and Moore has said he would appeal his expulsion to the Supreme Court if necessary. The state's Republican primaries for three seats on the Alabama Supreme Court turned into a referendum on the ousted Moore and his Ten Commandments monument.

Former Moore aide Tom Parker narrowly defeated Justice Jean Brown, who became the target of Moore's supporters after she voted to remove his Ten Commandments monument. A Moore-supported appeals court judge, Pam Baschab, lost overwhelmingly to Shelby County judge Patricia M. Smith in the Place Two race.[22]

2002 elections

In 2002, Harold Frend See, Jr. won against James Anderson, a Democrat. See raised $1,590,797, while Anderson raised $1,327,248.[23]

Basic qualifications for office

All Alabama Supreme Court justices must be licensed to practice law in the state of Alabama. Justices of the Supreme Court are elected statewide and may reside anywhere in the state. Justices and judges are elected in partisan elections.

All justices and judges, with the exception of municipal court judges, are elected by the qualified voters of a respective court's jurisdiction for six-year terms. Judges of the municipal courts are not elected to office but are appointed by the governing body of the municipality. Full-time municipal court judges are appointed for four-year terms, while part-time municipal judges are appointed for two-year terms.[24]

See also

External links


Alabama Supreme CourtAlabama Court of Civil AppealsAlabama Court of Criminal AppealsAlabama Circuit CourtsAlabama Municipal CourtsAlabama Probate CourtsAlabamaAlabama countiesAlabama judicial newsAlabama judicial electionsJudicial selection in AlabamaUnited States District Court for the Northern District of AlabamaUnited States District Court for the Middle District of AlabamaUnited States District Court for the Southern District of AlabamaUnited States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh CircuitAlabamaTemplate.jpg