Campaign Contributors and the Nevada Supreme Court
Reddick, Malia, Janning, Nicholas, Judicature
This November, Nevada voters will decide whether to continue choosing their judges in nonpartisan elections or to move to a merit selection system with retention elections and judicial performance evaluation. The proposed constitutional amendment will appear as Question 1 on the ballot. Originally known as Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 2, the measure was sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, a Republican from Reno, and Assembly Speaker Barbara Bucldey, a Democrat from Las Vegas. SJR 2 was approved by legislative majorities in 2007 and 2009, as required for constitutional amendments proposed by the legislature. Nevada has used a merit selection process to fill judicial vacancies that arise between elections since 1976, but voters rejected proposals that would have instituted merit selection for all judgeships on three past occasions - in 1972, 1988, and 1996.
The new politics of judicial elections article in this issue (see page 50} documents the transformation of judicial elections over the last decade, particularly when it comes to fundraising. Nearly $207 million was raised across the country by state supreme court candidates from 2000 to 2009 - more than double the $83.3 million raised from 1990 to 1999. Nevada ranked eighth among states with contested high court races, with candidates for the supreme court raising a recordbreaking $9.8 million. Approximately $3.1 million was raised in the 2008 election cycle alone.
Recent national polling suggests a growing concern among the public that justice may be for sale in state courts. According to a poll conducted earlier this year, seven in ten Americans believe that judicial campaign money has a significant impact on courtroom decisions. Supporters of Question 1, who believe that reform is necessary to preserve public confidence in the state's courts, hope that recent judicial election trends both nationally and in Nevada will help to generate support for the measure.
The American Judicature Society is working with a coalition known as Nevadans for Qualified Judges to educate voters about the benefits of merit selection, retention elections, and performance evaluation over contested elections. One aspect of this work is an examination of whether Nevada citizens have reason to worry that campaign contributions may influence judicial decisions. AJS analyzed the frequency with which contribu tore to the campaigns of Nevada Supreme Court justices later appeared before the court. The study examined civil cases decided by the court in 2008 and 2009, and determined the number of cases in which at least one of the litigants, attorneys, or law firms involved made a contribution to at least one justice.1
The Nevada Supreme Court decided 112 civil cases with published opinions in 2008 and 2009.y Eighty-one of these were decided by the court en bane and 31 were decided by a three-judge panel. …