A 15-year-old Alabama law meant to discourage big-dollar donations to judicial campaigns has never been enforced, and each of the three branches of government blames another for the failure, reports the Birmingham News. The attorney general says the state court system is supposed to come up with rules for enforcement; the state court system says the law first needs the blessing of the U.S. Justice Department, which the AG’s office has not sought; and a legislative sponsor of the law says he’d be happy to rewrite it if someone would tell him what’s wrong with it.
“Only the combined forces of the three branches of government could create such a confusing situation,” said Mark White, a Birmingham lawyer who led the 1996 review of the law and found several problems that make it hard to enforce. A federal lawsuit filed last week asks that the law be formally blocked until the Justice Department can review it, contending that, as the situation stands now, the law could be haphazardly enforced. The law itself is not complicated. Judges who accept significant campaign contributions from someone who has a case in their court would have to step down from hearing the case. The limits are $2,000 for circuit judges and $4,000 for appellate judges. If the law were enforced, it would be one of the most strict judicial campaign finance laws in the country and likely would have a dramatic effect on how judges in Alabama raise money for their campaigns.