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October 1, 2006

Dollars and other dynamics impacting judicial decisions

The New York Times has this extended article, focused on the Ohio Supreme Court, which explores the possible impact of campaign contributions on judicial decision-making by elected judges.  The article is sobering, though contributions impacting rulings likely is not a huge problem in criminal justice cases.  However, as commentors and litigants have long known, broader concerns about politics do loom very large in criminal cases (and, I would suggest, especially in cases involving sentencing issues where the basic guilt of the offender is not in dispute).

Some related posts on politics, policy and sentencing judgments:

October 1, 2006 at 08:36 AM | Permalink


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I'm a prosecutor in Florida---Personally, I don't think campaign contributions should be allowed just because of the appearance of impropriety. I read the article about J. O'Donnell very quickly, but I think it stated he sides with his contributors 91% of the time.

I don't care what he said, there's something going on there.

I think these contributions are debilitating the judiciary. It sends the message that cases can be won or lost depending on who pays out more to the judge.

Posted by: Autumn | Oct 1, 2006 9:16:22 AM

The happy (or least unhappy) medium is the California system, where appellate judges go on the ballot every 12 years for a yes-or-no confirmation. While there is no perfect system, this one strikes the best achievable balance between elections with named opponents (with the problems raised by this article) and life tenure, which gives those who are disposed to engraft their personal opinions on to the Constitution and declare them to be the supreme law a blank check to do so.

History shows it works well. Only once in 70 years have appellate judges been yanked and that was exactly when they should have been -- when their opinions displayed an unrelenting determination to block the enforcement of a constitutional statute simply because they disagreed with it.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 1, 2006 12:14:56 PM

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