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Research 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.