Trial lawyers make their most significant gains where they feel most at ease: the courts. When trial lawyers lose legislatively, they turn their focus to state Supreme Courts and activist judges to strike down tort reform laws. In fact, state courts have overturned tort reform laws over 90 times in the last 16 years. CSE was active with our state Supreme Court voter education efforts in four states this year: Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. Educating voters in a state Supreme Court battle is tough: it has to involve on-the-ground activities with intensive door-to-door voter education efforts.
Toward this end, we have produced hundreds of thousands of educational documents about the Supreme Court, voter guides, tort tax pieces, yard signs, and direct mail pieces; implemented a successful message-of-the-week tailored to each state’s media needs; attended key political events; spoke to various state organizations; and drafted op-eds. Below are state-specific summaries of our work on Supreme Court races.
Alabama CSE Educating Voters on the Importance of Five State Supreme Court Races. With five of the nine Alabama Supreme Court seats up for election, trial lawyers poured millions of dollars into these races. The trial lawyers want to stack the court for their challenge of the consumer-friendly tort reform legislation passed in 1999. CSE has countered the trial lawyer attack by unveiling their true motives. As part of our strategy, we exposed trial lawyer giving at our activist briefings. We informed our members and the media about the “Trial Lawyer Six Pack,” whose members are comprised of six plaintiff-lawyer firms that donated a whopping $4 million to campaigns in 1998. The trial lawyers are on their way to exceeding their 1998 giving. According to a CSE study, trial lawyers gave over $2 million a month before the election. Our efforts have received media attention across the state.
AL CSE staff distribute voter guides the weekend before the election.
CSE split the state into eight key areas to ensure our message was delivered. Prior to the election, we:
attended nearly 30 events,
distributed 3,000 yard signs,
distributed 1,000 voter guides and over 200 novelties,
traveled over 5,000 miles,
mailed our voter guides to over 70,000 households, and Supreme Court literature to 400,000 households, and
educated nearly to 2,500 individuals face-to-face about the importance of the Supreme Court races.
The final week before the election, trial lawyers went up on the air with a television ad attacking Republican candidates for the Alabama Supreme Court. The misleading ad tells viewers that Republican members of, and candidates for, the Supreme Court support tort reform and arbitration which has taken away Firestone/Ford Explorer victims’ rights to a jury trial. Alabama CSE responded with a strong television ad, which ran through Monday before the election, along with a substantial earned media strategy to offset their false statements about tort reform and arbitration.
Trial lawyers were on the attack both on radio and with print ads to carry their message as well. Again, Alabama CSE responded with a significant statewide buy of a print ad as well as a radio ad warning voters of trial lawyer tricks.
Illinois CSE Getting the Word Out About An Activist Court. In Illinois, CSE broke new ground by getting voters to understand how the state Supreme Court affects their lives and by introducing to them the importance of participating in their state Supreme Court races. As part of our efforts, we:
Distributed nearly 100,000 voter guides,
Traveled over 10,000 miles,
Distributed thousands of novelties,
Spoke to over 50 clubs and organizations, and
Recruited over 200 activities
all in the name of civil justice reform and the important role the supreme court plays.
Illinois CSE was the first state chapter to produce “Who Cares About the Illinois Supreme Court?”—a grassroots brochure that educates real people on their state Supreme Court and why they need to get involved. Our on-the-ground efforts helped voters make educated choices in the voting boots both in the primary and on Election Day.
CSE’s Sharkman with Justices Taylor, Young, and Markman holding CSE signs.
Michigan Voters Get CSE’s Message on Three Supreme Court Races. In Michigan, three reform justices were up for re-election. The Michigan Supreme Court has a pro-reform margin by 5-2. Gov. Engler appointed Justices Taylor, Markman, and Young—all of whom are reformers. Trial lawyers saw this as their opportunity to take back the court and were working with the unions to return Michigan’s Supreme Court to an activist court. Michigan has some of the strongest tort reform laws on the books compared to other states. Once we garnered the resources necessary, CSE hit the ground running. We immediately developed a strategy that would allow us to reach the most likely voters who were in areas that had significant voter drop-off when it came to voting for Supreme Court candidates (down-ballot voting). Our 31 counties were further targeted to key townships. CSE took advantage of every political event, meeting, gathering, etc., to get our message out. In the final days leading up to the election, we deployed several activists and staff in key neighborhoods to distribute our voter guides and yard signs. All told, in just two and a half months, Michigan CSE:
Attended over 90 events,
Distributed 6,000 Supreme Court yard signs,
Printed 330,000 pieces of Supreme Court education literature and voter guides,
Traveled over 6,000 miles,
Reached 10,000 people, and
Distributed nearly 3,000 tort reform novelty items.
Additionally, CSE took advantage of the focus on the tight race between Al Gore and George W. Bush for Michigan’s 18 electoral votes. We attended every rally and event possible from both camps, using these events as a great opportunity to get our message out. In the final weeks of the election, there wasn’t a presidential political event that CSE didn’t attend.
Ohio Supreme Court Races: Critical to CSE’s Tort Reform Efforts. In Ohio, the court is an activist court by 4-3. Two Supreme Court justices were up for re-election: one reform justice and one activist justice. Republican Judge Terrence O’Donnell challenged the activist, Justice Alice Resnick (D). Justice Resnick wrote the decision to strike down the tort reform laws in Ohio. In the other race, Democratic Judge Tim Black challenged the reformer, Justice Deborah Cook (R).
A CSE voter guide waits in the mailbox of an Ohio resident.
The Resnick/O’Donnell race was one of the most closely watched races this year in the tort reform community because of Resnick’s role in striking down the tort reform legislation. Like Michigan, CSE hit the ground running in Ohio once we garnered the resources necessary. We immediately developed a strategy that would allow us to reach the most likely voters who were in areas that had significant voter drop-off when it came to voting for Supreme Court candidates (down-ballot voting). Our 23 counties were further prioritized into four target zones. CSE took advantage of every political event, meeting, gathering, etc., to get our message out. In the final days leading up to the election, we deployed several activists and staff in key neighborhoods to distribute our voter guides and yard signs. All told, in just three and a half months, CSE:
Attended over 50 events,
Distributed 4,000 Supreme Court yard signs,
Printed 435,000 pieces of Supreme Court education literature and voter guides,
Traveled over 17,000 miles,
Reached over 5,000 people face-to-face with our message, and
Distributed over 1,000 tort reform novelty items.
Additionally, we visited key newspapers and radio shows to get our message out on these races and garnered media coverage from these efforts.
Overview of CSE’s Efforts
State Supreme Court Results
State Legislative Results
We designed our multi-level efforts and independent strategies to coalesce into a long-term, sustainable asset that positions CSE to achieve its goals post-November. Our plan involves growth by building on existing assets. It involves a presidential, federal, legislative, and judicial strategy, each one building on the others.