Electing Judges: Justice for Sale?

An alarming new study says spending on state Supreme Court elections has more than doubled in the past decade.

West Virginia judges rehear a case after photos surfaced showing a state Supreme Court Justice vacationing with a person involved in a pending case. Judicial elections in West Virginia have remained controversial, with one disputed election leading to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. (AP)

Americans widely bemoan the influence of big money in their politics. Now, let’s look to the courts. 

A new study, out this week, says spending on state Supreme Court elections has exploded – more than doubled – in the last ten years. Twenty-two states elect top judges and sixteen more have retention elections. 

Smart money, big money, has figured out that can mean a lot of leverage. Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor is warning that a perception of “justice for sale” in this country threatens to undermine the rule of law. 

We look at money, justice and the courts.

-Tom Ashbrook


Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan campaign to keep state courts fair and impartial. His organization’s new, eye-opening report, “The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2000-2009: Decade of Change,” was just released.

James Bopp, Jr., attorney with Bopp, Coleson and Bostrom, and the James Madison Center for Free Speech. He’s known as the legal mind behind the Citizens United case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that corporations, unions and nonprofits can spend any amount to support or oppose the election of a candidate. He is currently serving as a lawyer for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who is defending his ads during the 2008 election in that state.

Penny White, professor of law at the University of Tennessee College of Law and a former Justice on Tennessee’s Supreme Court. She lectures widely on judicial independence and the need for reform.

Clifford Taylor, former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. He is a currently an attorney and law professort at the Ave Maria School of Law.

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