An explosion of big money in state judicial elections is changing the way some judges rule from the bench, according to a new study.
‘ Skewed Justice,’ the report sponsored by the liberal-leaning American Constitution Society, says judicial elections, once low-key affairs, have become as bitterly contentious as races for elective offices.
The study notes that campaign contributions for state supreme court candidates mushroomed from $6 million in the 1989-90 campaign cycle to over $45 million in the 2007-08 cycle.
In addition, money spent by outside groups has surged. Independent expenditures accounted for 43 percent, or $24.1 million, of the $56 million spent in judicial elections in the 2011-12 campaign cycle, according to the study.
‘These powerful interests understand the important role that state supreme courts play in American government, and seek to elect justices who will rule as they prefer on priority issues such as environmental and consumer protections, marriage equality, reproductive choice and voting rights,’ the study says. ‘Although their economic and political priorities are not necessarily criminal justice policy, these sophisticated groups understand that ‘soft on crime’ attack ads are often the best means of removing from office justices they oppose.’
The study found a seven percent decrease in justices voting in favor of criminal defendants following the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which loosened restrictions on independent expenditures and allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on campaign ads.