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The New Politics of Judicial Elections

  • Deborah Goldberg
Published: February 14, 2002

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.