WHY SHOULD EVERYONE CARE ABOUT ALABAMA’S APPELLATE COURT ELECTIONS?
Q. WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE ALABAMA APPELLATE COURT SYSTEM?
A. Appellate courts do not try cases, have juries or witnesses. They review actions or decisions of the trial courts.
The Court of Civil Appeals has jurisdiction of all appeals from administrative agencies in which a judgment was rendered in a trial court. The court also exercises jurisdiction over appeals in workmen’s compensation cases and domestic relations cases.
The Court of Criminal Appeals hears all appeals of felony and misdemeanor cases, including violations of city ordinances and all post-conviction writs in criminal cases.
Q. WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE ALABAMA SUPREME COURT?
A. The Supreme Court is the “court of last resort.” Most of its cases are appeals involving questions arising under the Alabama Constitution. Cases that go to the Alabama Supreme Court generally have originated in the court of appeals or are cases in which there have been conflicting opinions on the same question from two or more courts of appeals. The Supreme Court also hears all cases in which the death penalty has been imposed.
As the Court of Last Resort, Alabama’s Supreme Court has become known for its final rulings on everything from public school funding to worker’s compensation and product liability. In all cases, what it mandates is the final word. This is why the Supreme Court is so important to each of us. The issues being decided at the Supreme Court can have a lasting effort on our personal lives, our jobs, our employees and our wallets.
Q. WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO CARE ABOUT WHO SERVES ON THE COURT?
A. Just as it is important to care about who serves as your Governor or State Legislator, the people who are elected to the Alabama Appellate Courts serve an important role within the checks and balances of state government.
Members of the Supreme Court have the ability to strike down laws and order government officials to take certain actions. They have tremendous influence on how government operates and how it impacts your life. Because many court decisions are made by a one-vote majority (a 5-4 vote), it is crucial to know that all of the justices you are electing to the Supreme Court share your beliefs and values and will act on your behalf, just like other elected officials.
Q. HOW CAN A JUSTICE’S PERSONAL AND JUDICIAL BELIEFS INFLUENCE HIS OR HER DECISION?
A. In most cases with government and politics, a person’s philosophy or beliefs greatly impacts the decisions that they make. This is certainly the case with Appellate Justices. Most Justices on this level are in one of two camps:
1. Conservative Justices, who view their role strictly as an evaluator of whether a law or lower court ruling is in line with Alabama’s Constitution. They do not believe that their job is to influence state policy or make new laws, but to interpret current laws.
2. Liberal Justices, who feel that their role is not to simply review laws, but is instead to add meaning or change existing laws to enhance a particular viewpoint or serve as a final arbitrator. They view themselves as policymakers and holders of the public interest.
Justices with an activist viewpoint often assert their authority in an effort to tip the balance of power within state government. While lawmakers and the Governor are specifically directed by the state constitution to set state policy, activist justices use their decisions to push specific policies and directions on behalf of various special interests. Often this results in major shifts in the law with little advance notice or public discussion.
These “activist” judges have a record of making decisions in Alabama which made it hard for companies to stay in business and which hurt consumers and taxpayers in the form of higher costs for products and services.
Q. HAVE COURT DECISIONS REALLY IMPACTED ME?
A. For many years, consumers, employers, employees, and regular citizens from every walk of life have paid the price of court settlements gone out of control. From well-publicized, multi-million dollar lawsuits for damages from spilled coffee at McDonald’s, to lesser known, but nonetheless very expensive insurance cases, many courts are routinely upholding excessive and often frivolous cases. When a business loses an excessive, unfair of frivolous liability lawsuit, all of us pay the price in the form of job losses, reduction in wages, or price increases for everyday goods and services. A study by the Council of Economic Advisors estimated that the U.S. legal system adds $650 each year for every American in added expenses for goods and services – such as cars, appliances, doctor visits or insurance.
The economic impacts of court rulings can’t be ignored. Great strides have been made to stem the tide of costly decisions in Alabama through the election of conservative, non-activist justices. But every Alabamian needs to pay attention to each Appellate Court election to prevent the further loss of billions of dollars of potential investment in jobs, economic growth and opportunity.
Q. DOES IT MATTER WHO SUPPORTS CANDIDATES FOR THE COURTS?
A. If a candidate’s support is narrowly based, then one must consider the incentive behind that limited financial support. Many candidates receive support primarily from personal injury lawyers. These lawyers’ income is directly dependent upon the outcome of a case. Generally, a personal injury lawyer is paid for his or her services by taking a percentage of a client’s award. Consequently, personal injury lawyers are absolutely impacted by judges and their judicial philosophy.
While regular citizens cannot appear in court to defend their interests in each and every case, you can have representation by voting for the candidate who best agrees with you on the issues which are before the court. Make sure that you vote for the candidate who views the role of the court as you see it – and not as a way to financially reward a small cadre of plaintiff attorneys.
Q. HOW CAN I BEST EVALUATE WHO TO VOTE FOR?
A. The Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee compiles detailed information on each candidate. Refer back to this site often prior to elections to learn more about the candidates, and access information about their races. Research the candidates using the information provided through this site; read everything you can about the election; listen to discussions in public, in the workplace and at home, then vote. That is how you can make a difference for your job, your family and the economic future of Alabama.