'Muscle beach': Trial lawyers flexing newfound political power
November 12, 2000
Like bodybuilders on steroids, Mississippi's trial lawyers are flexing their political muscle this fall by supporting their favorite candidates in hotly-competitive races for the state Supreme Court. Under current Mississippi law, they have the right like any citizen to endorse, support and contribute money to candidates of their choice, even candidates for the Supreme Court where impartiality should rule.
The trial lawyers, through two of their favorite elected officials, are attempting to stifle the ability of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 3 million businesses and organizations, to express its views on major issues of the day. The Chamber has not endorsed any candidate for Supreme Court, although it is conducting an advertising campaign on behalf of "good government" issues in Mississippi.
The argument has elevated into a nasty fight over a legal interpretation of state law by a federal court, and the decision carries huge implications not only in the current election cycle but also for the future. In their battle to take a piece of strategic ground, the two trial lawyers' favorites in state government Attorney General Mike Moore and Secretary of State Eric Clark went to federal court to stop the Chamber's advertising.
When elected officials in Mississippi go to court, taxpayers get to foot the bill. This time, taxpayers are being forced to fund the defense of efforts which can only benefit a few rich trial lawyers and their clients whose cases may one day wind up before the state's highest court. This represents, at best, a dirty little secret in the state and, at worst, an outrageous attempt to capture the court through the influence of money in politics.
The legal battle over exactly what the state law requires in terms of political contributions to judicial candidates will likely result in a watershed decision.
Cooked down to its essentials, the argument centers on free speech and to what extent do such political contributions negate even the appearance of impartiality in the state's highest court.
Suffice it to say attempts by plaintiff's attorneys to peddle their influence in judicial elections does not serve the cause of impartial justice. The Mississippi Supreme Court is not muscle beach and the blatant attempts by trial lawyers to silence the opposition is tantamount to kicking sand into the faces of Mississippi voters.
We hope their efforts backfire as more and more voters realize the potential damage done to our legal system by avaricious trial lawyers evidently absorbed by the idea of forming their own special niche in state government.