Money talks, the saying goes, and many Americans think it’s telling judges how to rule on cases, according to results of a poll released Thursday.
Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice commissioned the poll that found nearly 9 out of 10 Americans believe campaign donations affect courtroom decisions.
“They’re worried that justice is for sale,” Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, said in a news release.
The poll asked 1,200 registered voters about campaign donations made directly to judges’ campaigns as well as about “independent spending,” in which outside groups spend their own money on TV ads and other election materials for or against a judicial candidate. The poll revealed that 87 percent of voters believe both kinds of spending have either “some” or “a great deal” of influence on judges’ decisions.
A judge should step aside, 92 percent of voters said, when one party in the case has either donated directly to the judge’s campaign or spent significantly on election materials designed to help elect the judge.
According to a new report by the two groups, independent spending on judicial races by special interest groups hit a record high in 2011-2012 of $15.4 million.
Randall T. Shepard, former Indiana chief justice, is a member of Justice at Stake’s board of directors. The group’s focus is keeping courts fair and impartial.