A recent study found that campaign contributions can have a significant influence on decisions by state Supreme Court justices, an article in The National Law Journal reported.
After studying judicial elections in Michigan, Texas, and Nevada, political scientists Chris Bonneau of the University of Pittsburgh and Damon Cann of Utah State University determined that “campaign contributions appear to affect the outcome of cases in states where judges are elected in partisan contests — Michigan and Texas in the study — but not where they are elected on a nonpartisan ballot — Nevada.”
The authors noted that the sample of states was small and also said it is impossible to say that campaign contributions cause decisions, but in Michigan and Texas, the authors said they identified a “correlation.”
As the second largest group of contributors (behind business), attorneys were responsible for 21% of the donations made to candidates in 2005-2006.
Although the authors of the study accounted for other factors that might influence a judge’s decision, such as the details of the case and personal ideology, they tried to control for these aspects. Even so, the authors concluded that, in Michigan and Texas, “‘Dollars made a difference, whether a liberal was contributing to a liberal or a liberal [was] contributing to a conservative.’”
More disturbing was the fact that a contribution as small as $2,000 seemed to make substantially affect the ultimate decision of the judge. While the authors concede that this finding does not imply that attorneys need only contribute this sum of money to buy a ruling, they do note that,
‘[I]n an environment where numerous attorneys and law firms are making contributions, judges notice those who are contributing (more…)