MSNBC has featured Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg paired with a former state Supreme Court chief justice in a segment on the Craig Melvin show entitled, “Judges for Sale?”
The recently released “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12″ report disclosed that a record $33.7 million was spent on TV advertising in state court elections during the latest cycle, Melvin said, and he interviewed Brandenburg and former Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson of the Texas Supreme Court about the implications of this soaring spending.
“People spend money because they want something out of the courts,” Brandenburg said, suggesting that the “tort wars” are in turn becoming “the court wars” waged over tilting the scales of justice in state high courts across the country. “In the end,” Brandenburg warned, “the public is wondering, ‘Is Justice for Sale?’”
Former Justice Jefferson said that in Texas, few people actually know the qualifications of numerous judges listed on a ballot, and voters end up casting a ballot along straight-party lines. “That’s why it’s a broken system — accountability doesn’t work in this context,” he said.
The “New Politics” report was coauthored by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. In conjunction with its release, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center released a new poll showing that a vast majority of voters believes that campaign donations and other special interest spending on judicial elections have an influence on a judge’s decision.
A full 87 percent of voters said they believed both kinds of spending have either “some” or “a great deal” of influence on judges’ decisions. On MSNBC, Brandenburg said, “We’ve never seen the level of concern so high.”