New Trends in Judicial Elections Pose Threats, JAS Tells USA Today

corrupt justiceNew trends in increasingly politicized state judicial elections pose real dangers for people who seek impartial justice from elected judges, USA Today quotes Justice at Stake as saying.

“The big fear is that judges will start to change their decisions because of political pressure,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told USA Today. “If money affects a decision in court, you just violated the Constitution.” Surveying judicial elections in numerous states, the newspaper identified these new trends:

  • “In some contests, spending by outside groups — from trial lawyers on the left to conservative groups on the right — is dwarfing the money raised by the candidates.” (See the latest JAS and Brennan Center for Justice analysis here.)
  • “A new study suggests that ‘soft on crime’ attacks leveled against judges in recent years has skewed their jurisprudence, making them less likely to side with criminal defendants.” (See Gavel Grab to learn about the study.)
  • “The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to decide whether laws that ban would-be judges from soliciting campaign cash violate their First Amendment rights — a verdict that could lead to more wide-open electioneering.” (See Gavel Grab to learn about the case.)

“Unfortunately, a little money goes a long way in this particular arena,” said Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society, which sponsored the aforementioned study.  “Our picture of Lady Justice who’s blind with a scale is inaccurate. She’s actually taken off her blindfold and has her hand out.” The USA Today article was headlined,  “Outside groups seeking to influence judicial elections.”

Meanwhile a Los Angeles Times article spotlights how the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national organization based in Washington, D.C., has poured a six-figure sum into a lower-court race in Cole County, Mo., where the state capital is located.

The Times article quotes Brandenburg as saying, “Dark money and hardball politics are turning judicial campaigns into auctions, and judges are trapped in the middle, pressured to answer to donors and supporters who appear before them in court. Every state that elects judges needs to take steps to keep cash out of the courtroom.”