Poll: Huge Majority Thinks Spending Influences Judges' Decisions

A vast majority of voters believes that campaign donations and other special interest spending on judicial elections have an influence on a judge’s decision, according to a new poll released on Tuesday.

“These numbers are the highest we’ve seen in years of polling on this question,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, said in a statement. “Almost 9 in 10 Americans believe that campaign cash is affecting courtroom decisions. They’re worried that justice is for sale.”

Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice commissioned the poll, which was released as part of the roll-out for a new report by the groups, “The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12.

“As this poll makes clear, Americans are worried that our fair courts are at risk,” said Alicia Bannon, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.  “We need stricter rules for when judges have to step aside from cases, so that judges aren’t hearing cases involving donors who spent large sums getting them elected. We also need stronger disclosure laws so the public knows who is spending money trying to shape our courts.”

Eighty-seven percent of voters said they believe both direct campaign donations and independent spending have either “some” or “a great deal” of influence on judges’ decisions. Independent spending refers to outside groups spending money on TV ads and other election materials for or against a judicial candidate.

Independent spending on  judicial races by special interest groups hit a record high of $15.4 million in 2011-12, according to the report.

The survey, of 1200 registered voters nationwide, was conducted by 20/20 Insight, and had a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent.

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