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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.