The ugly, costly Illinois Supreme court race of 2004 didn’t persuade state leaders that they needed to reform the judicial selection process, but let’s hope the ugly, costly judicial retention race of 2014 will. The role of money and special interests in selecting – and ousting – judges was on clear display last week. Lloyd Karmeier won retention to the Supreme Court by a hair after a group of plaintiff’s attorneys with huge paydays at stake launched an 11th-hour advertising blitz to oust him. At least $1.7 million was spent on television advertising by outside groups from both sides, the most in the nation this year, according to the group Justice at Stake. Ten years ago, Karmeier defeated Gordon Maag in a race that cost about $9 million in record spending. Judicial elections create a Catch-22 for judges and other candidates. They are forced to campaign and fund raise if they hope to get on the bench, but then those contributions can lead to complaints that that they’re in the back pocket of this business or that organization. Illinois needs to get politics out of the judicial selection process and switch to merit-based selection. A nonpartisan commission should be set up to ensure that the process is fair, impartial and not tainted by politics.
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