Skip Navigation

Buying Time 2002: Television Advertising In State Supreme Court Elections

During the 2002 election season, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is releasing real-time reports on television advertising in state Supreme Court elections.

October 17, 2002

For Immediate Release
October 17, 2002

Contact Information:
Amanda Cooper, 212 998–6736

Buying Time 2002: Television Advertising in State Supreme Court Elections
Judicial Elections Heating Up Early in Three States

During the 2002 election season, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is releasing real-time reports on television advertising in state Supreme Court elections. The groundbreaking study The New Politics of Judicial Elections, co-authored by the Center, previously documented that 2000 was a “watershed year for big money, special interest pressure, and TV advertising in state Supreme Court campaigns.” This money explosion has real consequences for how Americans feel about their system of justice. According to a recent poll, 76% of voters feel that donors to judges campaigns received special treatment in court, and 26% of judges polled agree.

The Brennan Center is tracking television advertising in state Supreme Court elections throughout the nation. Thirty-three states will be electing state Supreme Court judges this year, and the hot campaigns will include television advertising. This report covers advertising from January 1 through October 12 in state Supreme Court races in Alabama, Mississippi, and Ohio. The reports provide information about who is advertising and how often, the tone and content of those advertisements, and the estimated cost of the airtime. 

Mississippi: A Virginia-based group runs first negative ads in the campaign

The Virginia based Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA) has begun airing ads supporting one Mississippi candidate, Jess Dickinson, and another attacking his opponent, Judge Chuck McRae. The latter is the first negative ad to air in any campaign (see Overall report, Figure 2). The LEAA has spent more than $11,000 airing ads, sponsoring more than 20% of the ads voters have seen regarding judicial elections in that state (see Mississippi report, Figure 1).

The LEAA has also tried to influence the make-up of state Supreme Courts in other parts of the nation. Ads the group was running in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court contest in 2001 were taken off the air when a Pennsylvania state court barred the ads with a preliminary injunction. The court would have allowed the group to continue advertising if they had followed state Election Code and disclosed their donors. The LEAA claimed that the disclosure laws did not apply, as they were running issue ads that did not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (which includes Mississippi), adopted an interpretation of the law on issue advertising sympathetic to advertisers like the LEAA, who run ads about candidates and their qualifications, without expressly urging viewers to vote for or against a candidate. This ruling ensures that the LEAA will be able to run ads in Mississippi during this election without running into the problems they encountered in Pennsylvania, and without disclosing their funding sources.

Alabama and Ohio: Early, expensive races heating up

In 2000, Alabama saw the most expensive State Supreme Court elections on record, with more than $1.2 million spent on airtime in a race with 13 candidates. So far this year, a field of only two major candidates has already spent about $300,000, or 25% of the total for 2000 (see Alabama report, Figure 1). In 2000, candidate ads didnt begin airing until October 11; Alabamas first candidate ads aired on September 29 for the 2002 election season. Candidate James Anderson is running a very rare 60-second ad.

Candidates and interest groups have also started advertising in Ohio, spending more than $350,000 to date. So far, Justice Eve Stratton has out-spent her opponent more than $5 to $1 (see Ohio report, Figure 1). However, an Ohio trial lawyer and union PAC called Citizens for an Independent Court has began running an ad supporting her opponent Judge Janet Burnside and another candidate running for an open seat.

The Mississippi campaigns also started earlier than in 2000, with some candidates running ads since the summer. So far, two candidates have spent about $46,000 on airtime.


The Brennan Center is compiling a database of Supreme Court election advertising utilizing information from a commercial firm that records each ad via satellite. The firm provides information about the location, dates, frequency, and estimated costs of the airings of each ad. Brennan Center researchers use storyboards video captures of the ad at four-second intervals, with complete audio text to code the ads, documenting the content, tone, and other information about each ad. Cost estimates are based on the average cost of a media buy for the airing time and station. This calculation does not include either premium costs often associated with ad buys or the costs of production.

Buying Time 2002

Buying Time reports, including links to storyboards, will be available here throughout the campaign.

These reports are part of the Justice at Stake Campaign Monitor 2002, a systematic effort to document the fund-raising, television ads, candidate speech and other campaign activity in the increasingly contentious battles for the nations state courts. More information can be found at

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law develops and implements a nonpartisan agenda of scholarship, public education, and legal action that promotes equality and human dignity, while safeguarding fundamental freedoms. For more information, please contact Amanda Cooper at (212) 998–6736 or visit