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Project

Money in Judicial Elections

Special interest money in state supreme court elections threatens the integrity of the judiciary. We’re tracking who pays for judicial races and analyzing how special-interest pressure and conflicts of interest threaten evenhanded justice in today’s courts.

Overview

It’s no secret that big money in polit­ics has trans­formed Amer­ican elec­tions. What is less under­stood, however, is that influ­ence-seek­ing money has also made tremend­ous inroads into our courts — insti­tu­tions that are consti­tu­tion­ally obliged to provide equal justice regard­less of wealth, status, or polit­ical connec­tions. Thirty-eight states conduct elec­tions for their state supreme courts, power­ful entit­ies that are gener­ally the final word on inter­pret­ing state law.

The Bren­nan Center has been track­ing and analyz­ing state supreme court elec­tions since 2000, as part of its “New Polit­ics of Judi­cial Elec­tions” series, issued jointly with the National Insti­tute on Money in Polit­ics. The series docu­ments the grow­ing threats to fair and impar­tial courts from secret money, special-interest pres­sure, and mislead­ing attacks on judges.

We also exam­ine the spon­sor­ship, content, and costs of tele­vised state supreme court campaign ads as part of our “Buying Time” series. Each elec­tion cycle, research­ers collect all avail­able tele­vi­sion ads aired in states conduct­ing supreme court elec­tions and analyze spend­ing, spot counts, themes, and tone. We have found that many ads target judges in mislead­ing ways for their decisions on the bench, partic­u­larly in connec­tion with crim­inal cases.

Key:

More than half of the court was elected in a $1 million race

At least one justice was elected in a $1 million race

State does not use elections

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