Thirty-eight states conduct elections for their Supreme Courts (including partisan and nonpartisan ballots, along with uncontested “retention elections” featuring up-or-down votes on an incumbent). For many years, the vast majority of these contests managed to steer clear of the growing tide of money, negative campaigning, and television “sound-bite” ads that have come to dominate so many other political campaigns in the United States. But in 2000, a new and ominous politics of judicial elections emerged — not yet national, but spreading rapidly.
An analysis of recent contribution, spending, and campaign advertising data, gathered together here for the first time, reveals that 2000 was a turning point for high-stakes campaigning in Supreme Court elections. In several key states, a flood of spending, TV buys, and negative ads suggests that the good old days may have just ended — and that if action is not taken now, most states will have a hard time keeping big money and special interests out of their courtrooms.