Academic journal article Judicature

The Policy Implications of Campaign Contributions

Academic journal article Judicature

The Policy Implications of Campaign Contributions

Article excerpt

A Discussion

On March 21, 2014, the American Judicature Society, Vanderbilt University Law School, and the American Constitution Society co-sponsored a symposium titled "Justice at Risk: Research Opportunities and Policy Alternatives Regarding State Judicial Selection." The centerpiece of the symposium was a study published by the American Constitution Society titled "Justice at Risk: An Empirical Analysis of Campaign Contributions and Judicial Elections" and written by Joanna Shepherd-Bailey, Associate Professor, Emory University School of Law.

This is a transcript of the afternoon panel that addressed the policy implications of campaign contributions in state supreme court elections. A video recording can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=hzcxGPg4MWY. American Judicature Society Executive Director Russell Carparelli, who is a retired Colorado Court of Appeals Judge, moderated the panel.

RUSSELL CARPARELLI, MODERATOR: In this session, we're going to consider the policy implications of a research paper written by Professor Joanna Shepherd-Bailey from Emory Law School. It is empirical research, and I'm going to just give you a quick summary of it. This morning we had two roundtables talking about that research, what it showed, and what future research might be done. This afternoon, we're going to talk about the policy implications of that study in brief and what that study showed. The study looked at state supreme court decisions and campaign contributions from a variety of interest groups. In particular, it looked at campaign contributions from business interest groups in state supreme court elections, regardless of whether they were retention, nonpartisan, or partisan elections. It was found that there is a statistically significant correlation between contributions to candidates who are running for the supreme court in those elections and the later votes in business cases of those who were elected.

The concerns that quite readily 0arise from that are whether the campaign contributions have an actual influence on the decision making of supreme court justices. There is also a concern about public percep-tion that those contributions affect and influence the decisions of those supreme court justices. For our purposes here, what I'd like to do is frame actual influence and focus first on self-interest. With actual influence, the implication might be that the money can actually influence the judge by creating a self-interest in that judge-a self-interest in getting elected or getting reelected to the bench. It might be to serve well those who supported the judge in the past, and it might be to ensure future support in the next election.

Actual influence also has an implication of systemic bias. That is, does money in the campaign influence voters in such a way that they then cast votes consistent with the interests of those who are providing the money? Do those voters then elect people who have an inherent partiality? Is the overall balance and partiality of the court changed, not necessarily because the judge has been influenced but because the system has been influenced by those contributions?

The other issue is the perception of influence. Studies have shown that the public does see, does believe, and does perceive that campaign contributions influence judges' voting behavior. That's how we're going to focus the discussion this afternoon.

Rather than starting at the beginning of the election process, we're going to go to the end of the process and talk to the judges and the attorneys who have been involved in judicial decision making and who have perspectives on judicial decision making. From there, we're going to go back to the beginning and talk about the election process step by step-the method of election, the method of campaign contributions, the disclosure of campaign contributions, and the disqualification as a result of the campaign contributions. We have a distinguished panel here today. …

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