Running for Judge: The Rising Political, Financial, and Legal Stakes of Judicial Elections

Running for Judge: The Rising Political, Financial, and Legal Stakes of Judicial Elections

Running for Judge: The Rising Political, Financial, and Legal Stakes of Judicial Elections

Running for Judge: The Rising Political, Financial, and Legal Stakes of Judicial Elections


Across the country, races for judgeships are becoming more and more politically contested. As a result, several states and cities are now considering judicial election reform. Running for Judge examines the increasingly contentious judicial elections over the last twenty-five years by providing a timely, insightful analysis of judicial elections. The book ties together the current state of the judicial elections literature, and presents new evidence on a wide range of important topics, including: the history of judicial elections; an understanding of the types of judicial elections; electoral competition during races; the increasing importance of campaign financing; voting in judicial elections; the role interest groups play in supporting candidates; party organizing in supposedly non-partisan elections; judicial accountability; media coverage; and judicial reform of elections.

Running for Judge is an engaging, accessible, empirical analysis of the major issues surrounding judicial elections, with contributions from prominent scholars in the fields of judicial politics, political behavior, and law.

Contributors: Lawrence Baum, Chris W. Bonneau, Brent D. Boyea, Paul Brace, Rachel P. Caufield, Jennifer Segal Diascro, Brian Frederick, Deborah Goldberg, Melinda Gann Hall, Richard L. Hasen, David Klein, Brian F. Schaffner, and Matthew J. Streb.


Matthew J. Streb

In a 2004 election, Lloyd Karmeier and Gordon Maag spent a combined total of approximately $10 million. The Democratic and Republican Parties accounted for roughly half of that money, and Political Action Committees donated much of the rest. Candidates, political parties, and interest groups spent more than $5 million on television advertisements alone. The tone of the race was mean spirited, as close to 73 percent of the commercial airings were either attack or contrast ads. The candidates clashed over health care and medical malpractice, and supporters of one questioned the character of the other. Volunteers for one of the candidates were even accused of rummaging through the opponent's trash. All of this was regularly covered in the print media. This was not a race for the U.S. Senate, as the amount of money spent, the tone of the campaign, the issues raised, and the media coverage might imply. It was an election for a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court.

The Illinois Supreme Court race between Karmeier and Maag is not an outlier. According to one study, in 2003–2004, supreme court candidates combined to raise over $46.8 million. Combined candidate spending in ten races broke the $1 million mark, and nine candidates spent more than $1 million by themselves. In the 2000, 2002, and 2004 election cycles, candidates raised $123 million compared with only $73.5 million in the preceding three cycles. The spending didn't stop at the supreme court level; one candidate for a Georgia intermediate appellate court seat raised $3.3 million. Nor was the spending confined only to candidates. While the controversial 527 organizations took a major role in the 2004 presidential election, they weren't silent in judicial elections, either. In West Virginia, one 527 group raised at least $3.6 million to successfully beat an incumbent. The organization, known as “And for the Sake of the Kids,” accused . . .

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