Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: Finalizing the Republican takeover of Alabama’s courts

  As late as 20 years ago Alabama was known as the worst state in America to do business in when it came to lawsuits. We were considered a wild west everything goes frontier to garnish outlandish judgments from any corporation doing business within our borders. It was truly a jackpot justice system that was almost comical if it were not so devastating. We were the subject of national business magazines, which chronicled the examples of ludicrous judgments that read like a comic book. The National Enquirer could not even compete fictionally with our factual examples of bizarre justice. Time Magazine referred to us on their cover as America’s “Tort Hell.”

  The business community in Alabama and throughout the nation decided to remedy this situation. They put their money where their mouth was and decisively began to outspend the plaintiff trial lawyers who had gotten rich off of the situation. They began this effort in the 1990s and outspent the trial lawyers by a 5 to 1 margin.

  In addition, they brought into Alabama a well known professional political gunslinger from Texas named Karl Rove. Rove and Big Business money from throughout the country took charge. They went about their mission with a vengeance. They not only remedied the situation, they totally reversed our Supreme Court and judiciary.

  In 1990, our State Supreme Court was all Democratic and totally controlled by the trial lawyers. Today our State Supreme Court is made up of eight Republicans and one lone Democrat. That one lone Democrat, Sue Bell Cobb, will be gone in three weeks. On August 1, our entire appellate judiciary will be all Republican. All members of the Court of Criminal Appeals are Republican, as well as all of the members of the Court of Civil Appeals. After Dr. Bentley appoints Cobb’s replacement all nine members of the Supreme Court will be members of the GOP. That, my friends, makes 21 out of 21. You might say that things have changed on Dexter Avenue in the last 21 years.

  Our Court is one of the most conservative and pro business tribunals in the country. Their decisions are unabashedly and predictably pro business. They have essentially outlawed punitive damages in Alabama regardless of how egregious the tort scenario. Therefore, over the last two decades we have gone from a trial lawyer paradise to a pro business oasis.

  This total Republican pro business Alabama Supreme Court will not change anytime soon. We are now a totally Republican state from the White House to the Statehouse. Our Supreme Court was the first branch to go completely red. Alabamians have decided that they want Republicans on their Supreme Court and, in fact, all their courts. This may stem from the perception that Republicans are more pro law and order and tougher on crime than Democrats.

  When Rove left after his Sherman like takeover, he left the business community with certain admonitions. His polling revealed that Alabamians did not know the names of the members of the Supreme Court nor did they care about their legal or educational qualifications or experience. All they wanted to know was that they were extremely conservative. Also Rove said the only qualification that they want to see is an “R” by their name on the ballot and prefer a female with an “R” by her name.

  The business victory is complete. The Court has a conservative pedigree that is unmatched. It has been insured by the continued pouring of business money into the judicial races. In 2010, there were three Supreme Court seats on the ballot. There was $4.3 million spent to make sure that all three Republican justices were elected. This was the most money spent by any state in the nation on Supreme Court contests.

  Sue Bell Cobb’s departure from the bench came earlier than expected. She abruptly resigned with eighteen months remaining on her six year term. She would have lost to a Republican in 2012. It will be next to impossible for a Democrat to win statewide next year. With Barack Obama on the top of the Democratic ticket there will be gale like straight ticket Republican winds storming through Alabama voting booths next November.

  Indeed, next year’s elections in Alabama are made up primarily of judicial races. Obama’s presence on the Democratic ticket in Alabama will ensure the reelection of all of the Republican Supreme Court justices. The GOP civil appeals judges as well as the criminal appeals judges should also have safe sailing. It is a safe bet that our entire appellate judiciary will remain Republican in 2012.

  See you next week.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at

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