Money Spent on State Supreme Court Elections Doubles in Past Decade

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

According to a new report, spending on state Supreme Court elections has doubled in the last decade. According to polls, three in four Americans believe money spent on campaigns for judgeships can affect later courtroom decisions; some states are calling for methods to protect the court system from special-interest money donated during election season.

The report, "The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2000-2009: Decade of Change," was released on Monday and is the first comprehensive study of spending in judicial elections in the past ten years. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Justice at Stake Campaign compiled the report. 

The report includes the following statistics:

  • Supreme Court candidates raised $206.9 million in 2000-2009, compared with $83.3 million in the 1990s.
  • In the 29 costliest elections in 10 states, the top five spenders averaged $473,000, individually, for every election to install judges of their choice, while the remainder of contributers each averaged $850.
  • In the past decade, Supreme Court candidates, special-interest groups and political parties spent an estimated $93.6 million on TV advertisements.

According to the report, however, states including Michigan, Wisconsin, New Mexico, North Carolina and West Virginia are working towards various reforms, which include public financing laws to regulate court races or adopting new recusal rules for judges when cases involving contributors come up.

Adam Skaggs, an attorney for the Brennan Center for Justice and co-author of the report joins us to discuss its findings. Also, Chris Christoff, a politics writer for Detroit Free Press, talks about the upcoming Supreme Court elections in Michigan, which ranked third among the states for spending on state Supreme Court candidates' TV ads in the past decade.


Chris Christoff and Adam Skaggs

Produced by:

Amanda Moore

Comments [2]


This is an almost unbelieveable irony. In this story, The Takeaway's producers and hosts clearly sought to cast doubt on the popular election of state judges, particularly state supreme court justices.

And the leading advocacy group that wishes to take away the electorate's right to vote for state supreme court justices is The Brennan Center for Justice. Which is itself a living, breathing problem in special interest money.

You see, the Brennan Center is funded by George Soros. It is a an avowedly "progressive" organization, and it has a political angle in trying to take away the people's right to vote on state appellate judges. The Brennan Center knows that if it can help substitute systems in which blue-ribbon panels of lawyers and law school academics select judges, the system gets tilted markedly to the left. Lawyers like judges who tend to promote more and more litigation. Why not? It's good business for lawyers. Unfortunately, what is good business for lawyers is often bad news for the car owners who pay increased premiums for auto insurance, doctors who pay increased premiums for malpractice insurance, manufacturers who spend more to defend product liability actions than to create more manufacturing jobs, etc.

Naturally, if all state appellate judges were somehow vetted through selection panels, it would likewise clearly skew all judges in favor of the socially "progressive" views we see in law school academia.

Why is it, that when someone like Barack Obama sets a fundraising record for a political campaign, it is treated as "exciting" and as an expression of popular interest in the political process? But when the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Hospital Association campaign for judges, it becomes inherently evil? Why? Is there any reason, other than that the media view the one side as "progressive" and the other side as "conservative"?

Aug. 17 2010 11:03 PM
Elizabeth B. from Gig Harbor, WA

It's frustrating, because we have a state supreme court judicial candidate here (Chushcoff) who not only is not accepting campaign donations but not actively seeking endorsements and because of this, the press has been questioning his committment. It's difficult trying to change things when you're not taken seriously because of the reform.

Aug. 17 2010 03:28 PM

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