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Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

It's Time for States to Follow ABA's Lead

August 11, 2011


It's Time for States to Follow ABA's Lead on Ethics Rules

Justice at Stake has issued the following statement on judicial disqualification and recusal rules, following a resolution by the American Bar Association's House of Delegates:

A decade after spending spiraled out of control in judicial elections, the American Bar Association has sent a critical message.  The time to restore confidence in our nation’s courts is now. States that elect judges need to take a fresh look at their ethics rules.

A new policy on judicial disqualification, passed Monday by the ABA House of Delegates, contains three key principles that would help dispel the toxic cloud gathering over many state courts.

  • It would urge state courts to set clear disqualification guidelines for judges regarding campaign expenditures. Many of the 38 states that elect some judges lack such rules.
  • Critically, the ABA policy calls for independent review of all recusal/disqualification motions, so that the judge being challenged does not have the final decision.
  • It would call on state courts to establish disclosure policies, so that all litigants and their lawyers must reveal whether they spent any money toward a judge’s election.

Judges should never be forced to choose between serving the law, and serving campaign backers who helped to put them on the bench. And no Americans should ever feel they received second-class justice because they didn’t make a contribution to a judge’s election campaign.

The right to a fair trial is embedded in our Constitution, and it cannot be trumped by the escalating pressures of campaign fundraising. This right has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, by the Conference of Chief Justices, and now by the American Bar Association. A 2009 Harris Interactive/Justice at Stake poll showed overwhelming public support for stronger judicial ethics rules.

Three in four Americans believe campaign cash affects courtroom decisions. With the ABA resolution, there is a clear consensus that our courts must respond forcefully, to make clear to every American, and every litigant, that justice is not for sale.

Justice at Stake especially wants to thank the Standing Committee on Judicial Independence, which initiated this important resolution, the ABA Judicial Division, which has served our nation’s courts by taking a forward-looking view, and former ABA President Stephen Zack, whose support helped bring the policy into being.

Justice at Stake will work actively with its more than 50 national partners to encourage courts to enact the ABA’s principles on disqualification and recusal. Courts already have the power to enact these changes on their own. They now have a road map for reform and a clear signal from our highest legal authorities that the time for action is at hand.

For More Information:

Charles Hall
(202) 588-9454;


The positions and policies of Justice at Stake publications and campaign partners are their own, and do not necessarily reflect those of other campaign partners or board members.
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