Contrary to Art Pope’s June 18 letter “Attorney fees for political campaigns unconstitutional,” the court decision he cites said a fee on attorneys to support public financing for judicial campaigns is not unconstitutional.
The court declared that the fee “does not, in and of itself, violate Plaintiff’s Freedom of Speech” and constitutionally promotes “credibility and integrity in the courts” (El-Khouri v. North Carolina). The $50 fee supports a judicial voter guide mailed to N.C. households and funds campaigns of qualifying appellate judicial candidates. The court did say attorneys must have an option to earmark their $50 for the voter guide or judicial campaigns. Most attorneys choose to support the campaigns.
North Carolina’s public financing program was crafted a decade ago to protect appellate courts from corruption and the appearance of corruption. Its effectiveness has been reduced by U.S. Supreme Court decisions blessing corporate spending in elections, including judicial elections, and striking “rescue” funds for publicly financed candidates targeted by that spending. But the program is surely better than judicial campaigns funded entirely by unlimited private contributions.
We agree with Pope’s support for an appointive rather than elective system for selecting judges as the best way to protect their independence and impartiality. But as long as we have judicial elections, lawmakers should keep and even strengthen the public financing program.
Jim Exum Jr.
Members, N.C. Bar Association’s Committee for Judicial Independence