Monday, April 5, 2010

"Judging for Dollars" looks at buying the judiciary post Citizens United

Adam Skaggs's New Republic article, "Judging for Dollars," focuses on the possible effects that the Citizens United decision will have on judicial races, noting that

In the last decade, state judicial elections across the country have evolved from quiet, civil contests into extravagant affairs with exorbitant spending, mud-slinging, and bitter personal attacks. Special interests in particular have helped engineer many of these races, pouring money into campaign coffers and negative TV ads. For instance, in a 2006 race in Washington—the most expensive judicial election that state had ever seen—every TV spot was paid for by a special interest group. As an Ohio AFL-CIO official put it, “We figured out a long time ago that it’s easier to elect seven judges than to elect one hundred and thirty-two legislators.”
This year, with more than 64 high-level court seats up for a vote, Skagg expects elections to be "special-interest spending frenzies." Money invested in a winning campaign is money well-spent for any entity that hopes to curry favor with the courts--according to the judges themselves. In a 2002 poll of state judges, nearly half said campaign contributions influences decision-making (presumably, though, the decision-making of their esteemed colleagues.)

Skaggs cites Nevada as an example, where
a 2006 investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed that even judges running unopposed collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from litigants, “frequently” dated “within days of when a judge took action in the contributor’s case.” In the case of one judge who raised $70,000 from 140 attorneys and law firms, all of these donors who gave at least $500 had a case pending before her. Public concerns about Nevada’s court races prompted the legislature to put a referendum on the ballot this coming November that will ask the public to scrap contested judicial elections entirely and instead adopt a system of appointments.

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