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Research Report

The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2006

  • James Sample
  • Lauren Jones
  • Rachel Weiss
Published: May 17, 2007

This fourth edition of “The New Politics of Judicial Elections” shows how 2006 was the most threatening year yet to the fairness of America’s state courts. Special interest pressure is metastasizing into a permanent national campaign against impartial justice: High court elections featured broadcast television advertisements in more than 91 percent of states with contested campaigns, median candidate fundraising hit an all-time high, special interests began to pour money into lower court campaigns, and pushy questionnaires sought to make judges accountable to special interests instead of the law and the Constitution.

As we explain, defenders of fair and impartial courts are fighting back. More states are considering reforms to insulate their courts from special-interest excesses by reforming their judicial elections or advancing proposals to scrap them entirely. Many of America’s judges used the 2006 campaigns to stand up to special interest bullying tactics. Civic and legal organizations are stepping up their efforts to educate Americans about the threat to impartial justice. And when Americans understand the threat, they want to protect the courts that protect their rights: A series of ballot measures that sought to politicize the courts all met defeat at the hands of voters.