Stanching the Cash Flow
By Erwin Chemerinsky and James Sample
The American Prospect
September 19, 2011
The influence of special-interest money in the corruption of state courts has been well documented. In 39 states, at least some judges are elected, and the costs of these elections are escalating dramatically. The money for such campaigns comes primarily from lawyers and litigants with matters before the courts. At the very least, this system undermines the public’s perception of the integrity of courts and their rulings. More than seven in ten Americans surveyed said they believe campaign cash influences judicial decisions. Nearly half of state-court judges agreed. The pervasive perception and increasing reality of monetary influence in judicial decision-making weakens a cornerstone of American democracy.
What can we imagine by way of remedy? There are two distinct paths. In the first approach, states would accept judicial elections but mitigate monetary influence by combining rigorous recusal rules with limits on campaign expenditures. In the second scenario, states would shift from election of judges to executive appointment and merit selection. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, both in terms of the substance and the political reality of reform. But whichever path is chosen, reform in judicial elections is imperative.
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