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Paul Pfeifer, Ohio Supreme Court justice

JAS: Ruling ‘Pours Gasoline’ on Spending

January 21, 2010


Justice at Stake: Citizens United ‘Pours Gasoline’ on Judicial Election Spending
Judicial Watchdog Cites ‘Silver Lining’ on Disclosure Rule

The following statement was issued today by Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission:

This ruling pours gasoline on the fire of special-interest money that has been overtaking judicial elections.  Interest group spending imperils our right to impartial justice by pressuring judges to rule with one eye on big-money contributors.

The critical impact on elected state courts is captured eloquently in Justice Stevens’ dissenting opinion:

“[T]he consequences of today’s holding will not be limited to the legislative or executive context. The majority of the States select their judges through popular elections. At a time when concerns about the conduct of judicial elections have reached a fever pitch, see, e.g., O’Connor, Justice for Sale, Wall St. Journal, Nov. 15, 2007, p. A25; Brief for Justice at Stake et al. as Amici Curiae 2, the Court today unleashes the floodgates of corporate and union general treasury spending in these races. Perhaps “Caperton motions” will catch some of the worst abuses. This will be small comfort to those States that, after today, may no longer have the ability to place modest limits on corporate electioneering even if they believe such limits to be critical to maintaining the integrity of their judicial systems.

Today’s ruling does contain one important silver lining: states can and should require all who ‘pay to play’ in court elections to fully disclose their financial sources. Where there is public support, states may also need to consider public financing or the appointment of judges, as the best remaining way to protect courts from campaign cash.

To see Justice at Stake’s amicus brief in Citizens United, click here. To see a Citizens United fact sheet, click here

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Justice at Stake is a nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign with more than 50 partners, working to keep America’s courts fair and impartial. Justice at Stake Campaign partners work for reforms to keep politics and special interests out of the courtroom—so judges can do their job of protecting our Constitution, our rights and the Rule of law. For more about Justice at Stake, go to www.justiceatstake.org, or www.gavelgrab.org.

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