The explosion in spending on television attack advertisements in state supreme court elections accelerated by the Citizens United decision has made courts less likely to rule in favor of defendants in criminal appeals. State supreme court justices, already the targets of sensationalist ads labeling them “soft on crime,” are under increasing pressure to allow electoral politics to influence their decisions, even when fundamental rights are at stake.
A new report, Skewed Justice: Citizens United, Television Advertising and State Supreme Court Justices’ Decisions in Criminal Cases by Dr. Joanna Shepherd and Dr. Michael S. Kang looks at the increase in television attack ads on state judicial decision-making. This study’s two principal findings:
The more TV ads aired during state supreme court judicial elections in a state, the less likely justices are to vote in favor of criminal defendants. As the number of airings increases, the marginal effect of an increase in TV ads grows. In a state with 10,000 ads, a doubling of airings is associated on average with an 8 percent increase in justices’ voting against a criminal defendant’s appeal.
Justices in states whose bans on corporate and union spending on elections were struck down by Citizens United were less likely to vote in favor of criminal defendants than they were before the decision. Citizens United changed campaign finance most significantly in 23 of the states where there were prohibitions on corporate and union electioneering prior to the decision. In these states, the removal of those prohibitions after Citizens United is associated with, on average, a 7 percent decrease in justices’ voting in favor of criminal defendants.
Read the full report at the Skewed Justice website.
NEWS AND COMMENTARY
The New York Times, "Money and Judges, a Bad Mix," by The Editorial Board, November 2, 2014.
The Billings Gazette, "Dark Money Campaigns Skew Justice Against Individual Rights," by James C. Nelson, October 29, 2014.
The New York Times, "'Soft on Crime' TV Ads Affect Judges' Decisions, Not Just Elections," by Derek Willis, October 21, 2014.
The New York Times, "Are Our Courts for Sale?" by Joe Nocera, October 27, 2014.
The Washington Post, “How judicial campaign ads may be affecting legal decisions,” by Niraj Chokshi, October 22, 2014.
Think Progress, "The Surprising Way Political Ads Are Impacting Judges Decisions on Alleged Criminals," by Nicole Flatow, October 21, 2014.
The Nation, "The Stealth Campaign to Buy US Courts," by Zoe Carpenter, October 23, 2014.
Esquire, "A Bad Idea Gets Worser," by Charles P. Pierce, October 22, 2014.
McClatchy Company Washington DC Bureau, “Election ads in judicial races can tilt rulings, study finds,” by Michael Doyle, October 21, 2014 (picked up by 22 outlets).
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