Get The Money Out Of Judicial Elections

With midterm elections rapidly approaching political media has all its focus on both state and federal congressional races.  But all across the country citizens will vote for more than just senators and representatives.  They will also vote for judges.

Judicial elections rarely garner the kind of attention that congressional elections do.  Voters rarely know much, if anything, about the candidates and party affiliation and disclosure is prohibited in some jurisdictions.  But judicial elections may just be one of the sleeper issues putting significant pressure on the function of our democracy.

There’s growing evidence that partisan and special interest groups are targeting judicial elections as a way to further political agendas.  Recent reports suggest that campaign fundraising for judicial elections from $83.3 million from 1900-1999 to $206.9 million from 2000-2009.

The issue is alarming enough that former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has taken up the issue of judicial election reform.  According to Justice O’Connor, the public has a growing “crisis of confidence” in the impartiality of the judicial brach that if left unaddressed will “undermine the rule of law that courts are supposed to uphold”.

While judicial decisions undoubtedly have political implications, our entire system of checks and balances depends on one branch having the ability to impartially and remotely monitor, and check, the reach of the other two.  At the same time, the idea and the evidence of corruption and partisanship in the judiciary is nothing new.  The evidence from the report is troubling but unfortunately not surprising and really does little to address the problem–that is, how can we assure credibility, competency, and accountability in the judiciary?

Unfortunately there’s no clear answer to that question.  Federal judges do not face election to a state citizenry, yet campaigns for their appointment are no less political.  Perhaps what we are witnessing, and what Justice O’Connor has hit as a nerve is the dropping of pretense between the role of money and access to the court–more inevitable fallout from the Citizens United decision. 

But like we’ve seen with the backlash against Target, the single greatest means of pushing back the influence of money in elections is disclosure.  Target’s donation to MN Forward came to light because Minnesota has campaign disclosure laws requiring this kind of reporting.  But not all states do, and recent efforts in Congress to pass the DISCLOSE Act fell just one vote shy (hmm… wonder why, and who would obstruct transparency in campaign donation efforts?).  While Justice O’Connor does not advocate specifically for DISCLOSE or similar legislation, she should.  As of now it’s really the citizenry’s only tool in parsing through the competing levels of monied interests in these upcoming elections.

Photo courtesy of walknboston via Flickr


Janice P.
Janice P7 years ago

Missouri, developed in 1940 the "Missouri Plan", which has been the model for 34 states. This plan, though not without its faults, is one of the best ways we have of filling judicial vacancies. It is a combination of the election and appointment of judges.

Initially, a commission of 3 lawyers (elected by the bar), 3 citizens (appointed by the Governor), and the presiding Chief Justice present a slate of nominations for any vacant judicial position to the Governor. The Governor has 60 days, to choose one of those names. If the Governor does not choose a name, then the originating Commission selects one of the candidates to fill that seat. In the next election, following one full year on the bench, that judge must stand for retention. If he/she is retained, that judge continues on the bench. If that judge is not retained, then the process begins anew, with the nomination of candidates by the Commission.

This plan was put into place, in an effort to dilute the influence of politics and money in judicial appointments and elections. It has succeeded in keeping our election cycles relatively free of commercial campaigning, corporate influence, and corruption for judicial positions.

Some groups in Missouri now want to change this plan. To do so would invite all the pitfalls it was originally designed to prevent. Our elected officials are already owned by corporations. We cannot allow all of our judges to be owned by them, as well. We will have no voice at all.

caroline c.
caro s7 years ago

why should people or companies be able to buy elections, what is happening to our american dream??

Edward M.
Edward M7 years ago

This should cover ALL elections.
All candidates should have equal access to the media up to a specific amount, set by law, so that no-one has an unfair advantage through their personal wealth or that of sponsors.

Susan T.
Susan T7 years ago

This is a really frightening issue since the Citizens United case has opened the floodgates to corporate money and in doing so showed us how quickly our democracy can be eroded by an "activist" court. We need a Constitutional Amendment that will restore the power to the people - not corporations or big money. Check out

suzanne s.
suzanne s7 years ago

i have seen/read in several sources that this is the prime target of 'citizens united'. virtually all corporations are international. should entities not wholly american have a voice in electing our judges? how about a voice vastly louder and more influential than your own? welcome to the new america

Kimberly Bennett
Kimberly Bennett7 years ago

They don't need money to run.......our money needs to be put where we need it. they get this money tax free. I think they all need to take a 75 percent wage cut across the board now. That is where the problems started.

carole a.
.7 years ago

Incredible how much money influences people's actions in the U.S. Will we ever admit that capitalism is a failure? It is the opposite of living humanely.

Mike Masley
Michael Masley7 years ago

thanks for this post

Judith P.

It wouldn't be a bad idea to donate to your local judges campaign fund, and for the city council members, and all of those with power in your government locally and statewide. You cannot deduct it but it is insurance to keep the other crooks off your back. Maybe you would get a reasonable judgment from a judge if you donated to his fund. That is the way it is done in many countries and it is time people realized that America has changed and you should get with the program.

Leanne B.
Leanne B7 years ago