North Carolina’s program for public financing of judicial elections, which the legislature killed in 2013 after it had operated for 11 years, helped produce judges who were more impartial, according to a study by three political scientists that is the topic of a Vox commentary.
The study was written by Morgan L.W. Hazelton, Jacob M. Montgomery, and Brendan Nyhan. According to Lee Drutman, writing at Vox, “In addition to finding evidence that justices who opted in to public financing became ‘relatively less favorable toward attorney donors,’ the paper also shows that justices who opted in to the public funding system became more moderate in their voting patterns.”
Drutman elaborates: “As compared with the justices who continued to rely exclusively on private donors for money, the justices in the public funding system were 60 percent less likely to vote in favor of donors who contributed money to their campaigns at some point in the previous eight years.”
Drutman favors doing away with privately funded judicial elections. He says they “undermine the very idea of judicial impartiality,” and he cites The New Politics of Judicial Elections reports by Justice at Stake and its partner organizations in showing how increasing millions are spent on them. “But at the very least, if we do have to hold judicial elections,” he concludes, “let’s make sure they are not controlled by those lawyers and corporations with direct business before the courts.”