I've been worried about the money pouring into judicial elections ever since I read John Grisham's "The Appeal."
The book is based on Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal in West Virginia, detailing the strong financial support and friendship between the judge and the defendant. The judge refused to recuse himself. And as blogger AngryYoungDem points out:
Elected judges become additional legislatures. Want to get rid of punitive damages against corporations? Bankroll a candidate who supports corporate interests. Can't get the legislature to pass a gay-marriage bill? Bankroll 3-5 gay-marriage supporters and stack the state supreme court. Judicial elections are cheaper anyway, so you save money by focusing on elected judges instead of elected representatives.
And now, even Supreme Court justices are speaking out:
In rare public remarks last week, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the money involved in electing judges remains one of the most pressing concerns facing the American court system. And she joined her former colleague, Sandra Day O'Connor, in calling for reform.
"If there's a reform I would make, it would be that," Ginsburg said when asked about the issue at the National Association of Women Judges Thursday night.
Yet money has continued to pour into the campaign accounts of state judges around the country, and ABC News has obtained an advanced copy of a study showing the amounts involved are unprecedented.
In the past decade, candidates for state judgeships raised more than $206 million, more than double the $83 million judges raised in the 1990s, according to the soon-to-be released study by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and Justice at Stake, two non partisan groups that advocate for reforming the judicial selection process.
Three of the last five state Supreme Court election cycles topped $45 million. And judges shattered fundraising records in all but two of the 21 states with contested Supreme Court elections in the last ten years, the report found.
"State judicial elections have been transformed," the report says, and the money involved has created "a grave and growing challenge to the impartiality of our nation's courts."