Judicial campaign spending amounts across the nation skyrocketed in the recent election cycle, threatening public perceptions of the independence, fairness, and impartiality of the courts. Driven by the desire to tilt the political balance on the court or to remove a judge from the bench because of unpopular rulings, political parties and outside groups spent vast amounts of unregulated money toward retaining or defeating a particular judge. In addition, some judges up for retention felt pressured to raise record amounts in order to combat against ouster attempts.
Unfortunately, these highly contested campaigns “leave impressions of judicial partisanship and indebtedness to campaign donors.” And, because PACs may be financed by special-interest money from undisclosed donors, it is difficult for litigants to know whether the other party supported the judge’s campaign and whether they should request that judge’s recusal. Until judicial campaign spending is under control, it will continue to undermine the judiciary’s duty to fairly and impartially make decisions based on the Constitution and the law.