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Report

The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2004

  • Deborah Goldberg
Published: December 31, 2004

The first two editions of “The New Polit­ics of Judi­cial Elec­tions” docu­mented a rising tide of tele­vi­sion advert­ising, big money and special interest pres­sure in state Supreme Court elec­tions across Amer­ica. As feared, 2000 proved to be an omin­ous turn­ing point, as special interests began to exert signi­fic­ant influ­ence in key Supreme Court elec­tions. In our third and most complete edition yet, we show how 2004 marks a “tipping point.” A perfect storm of hard­ball TV ads, millions in campaign contri­bu­tions and bare-knuckled special-interest polit­ics is descend­ing on a grow­ing number of Supreme Court campaigns. The stakes involve noth­ing less than the fair­ness, impar­ti­al­ity and inde­pend­ence of courts in the 38 states that elect their high court judges.

As this report illus­trates, Supreme Court campaigns attrac­ted network tele­vi­sion ads in four times as many states in 2004 as in 2000. Two candid­ates in a south­ern Illinois contest broke a national record for candid­ate fundrais­ing in a single contested Supreme Court race, combin­ing to raise $9.3 million, a figure that outpaced candid­ates in 8 U.S. Senate races. Supreme Court elec­tions are becom­ing epic battle­grounds in the tort liab­il­ity wars, the culture wars, and other contests where power­ful groups and wealthy donors seek to install judges who will rule in their interest, not the public interest.