Almost immediately after the Citizens United decision, outside spending in elections spiked; over the next five years, it more than doubled. Super PACs used hefty budgets to produce attack ads against candidates who were not to their liking—affecting outcomes in not only political races, but also in state judicial elections. Judges perceived as being unfriendly to PACs’ interests were attacked under the pretense of being “soft on crime,” resulting in measurably harsher treatment of criminal defendants by state supreme court justices. Further, the last five years have seen a flood of dark money into elections. As many commentators have noted, donor secrecy breeds mistrust and, possibly, corruption.
Americans expect the courts to be fair and impartial, but as special interest groups spend more and more money to influence courts, public faith in these institutions is waning. Soon, the Supreme Court will have to decide how important judicial independence is to our justice system in Williams-Yulee vs. The Florida Bar, a case that could, if wrongly decided, further diminish public trust in the courts. For those concerned about Citizens United, Williams-Yulee, or the corrosive impact of unrestrained special interest spending on our democracy, see the following ACS resources:
Skewed Justice: Citizens United, Television Advertising and State Supreme Court Justices’ Decisions in Criminal Cases, Joanna Shepherd and Michael S. Kang
Five Years Later, Citizens United Wreaks Havoc on Our Democracy, Fred Wertheimer, ACSblog
The Top Five Myths About the Democracy For All Amendment, John Bonifaz, ACSblog