June 11, 2013

Report Reveals Campaign Contributions Sway State Supreme Court Justices


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Report Reveals Campaign Contributions Sway State Supreme Court Justices
New Empirical Research Shows Contributions Undermining Impartiality
CONTACT:
Jeremy Leaming
202-393-6181
Washington, D.C. – New data from independent researchers reveal growing influence of contributions on state supreme court judges. It has been 15 years since comprehensive data have been compiled and studied regarding the relationship between campaign contributions and state judicial elections.
Justice at Risk: An Empirical Analysis of Campaign Contributions and Judicial Decisions, by Joanna Shepherd, a law professor at Emory University, analyzes data from 2,345 business-related state supreme court published opinions from all 50 states during 2010 – 2012 and more than 175,000 contribution records, and reveals a growing relationship between money and how state supreme court justices rule in business-related matters. The report focused on business contributions and their impact on state supreme court decisions because when direct and indirect contributions are taken into account, business interests dominate spending on judicial elections. Thus, while business interests and other groups contributed roughly equal amounts to candidates in state supreme court races from 2000-2009, business organizations dominated independent expenditures in those races, accounting for more than 90 percent of paid television advertising.
Shepherd concludes, in part, that analysis of the new data confirms “a statistically significant, positive relationship between campaign contributions from business groups and justices’ voting in favor of business interests. The more campaign contributions from business interests the justices receive, the more likely they are to vote for business litigants when they appear before them in court. Notably, the analysis reveals that a justice who receives half of his or her contributions from business groups would be expected to vote in favor of business interests almost two-thirds of the time.”
Campaign contributions to state supreme court campaigns have dramatically risen since the last major compilation of data on state supreme court cases and contributions from 1995 – 1998. The report notes that campaign contributions in state supreme court elections have “more than doubled from $83.3 million in 1990 – 1999 to $206.9 million in 2000 – 2009.” Three of the last state supreme court election cycles have topped $45 million in campaign spending.  The American Constitution Society sponsored the study to discover whether more money being funneled into state supreme court elections is placing fair and impartial courts at risk.
“It has been 15 years since the last major effort to assemble data on the relationship between campaign contributions and state court decision-making,” said ACS President Caroline Fredrickson. “We know that the amount of money in play in state supreme court elections has grown tremendously since then and we wanted to discover its impact. Our state supreme courts hear myriad cases affecting millions of lives. Those courts should be fair and impartial. This new data strongly suggest that money is endangering the impartiality of state courts, and placing justice at risk.”
Key findings of report:
  • There is a significant relationship between business group contributions to state supreme court justices and the voting of those justices in cases involving business matters.
  • The more campaign contributions from business interests justices receive, the more likely they are to vote for business litigants appearing before them in court.
  • A justice who receives half of his or her contributions from business groups would be expected to vote in favor of business interests almost two-thirds of the time.
  • The empirical relationship between business contributions and justices’ voting for business interests exists only in partisan and nonpartisan systems; there is no statistically significant relationship between money and voting in retention election systems.
  • There is a stronger relationship between business contributions and justices’ voting among justices affiliated with the Democratic Party than among justices affiliated with the Republican Party.
The entire report is available here and more information on our State Courts Resources Page.
To speak with the author or others knowledgeable about this report, please contact the ACS Communications Department at (202) 393-6181.
The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS), founded in 2001 and one of the nation's leading progressive legal organizations, is a rapidly growing network of lawyers, law students, scholars, judges, policymakers and other concerned individuals. For more information about the organization or to locate one of the more than 200 lawyer and law student chapters in 48 states, please visit www.acslaw.org.