In addition, Democratic judges show a stronger relationship between business contributions and judicial voting than do Republicans. Shepherd speculated that Republican judges are already more disposed to side with business interests.
For the 2009-2010 election cycle, the most recent for which complete data is available, state supreme court candidates raised more than $38 million overall. This was six times more than was raised during the 1989-90 election cycle. Though the new report does not itemize specific campaigns or cases, other public records show what’s happening on the ground.
Last year, for instance, Republican John Devine raised $273,000 in his campaign to defeat a fellow Republican, Justice David M. Medina, for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court. Medina raised $587,000 for the race. Both men drew most of their money from donors identified as lawyers or lobbyists, according to records compiled by the American Judicature Society, a nonpartisan group of lawyers, judges and others concerned about improving the legal system.
Outside groups are also paying for independent advertising, as in a concerted but ultimately unsuccessful campaign last year to unseat three Florida Supreme Court judges.
“The fundraising for judicial campaigns has skyrocketed,” said Caroline Frederickson, president of the American Constitution Society.
In a 2009 decision involving an earlier West Virginia Supreme Court race in which a coal company played a major role, the U.S. Supreme Court noted some of the problems that can arise.
“Not every campaign contribution by a litigant or attorney creates a probability of bias that requires a judge’s recusal,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 5-4 majority.
But he added: “There is a serious risk of actual bias . . . when a person with a personal stake in a particular case had a significant and disproportionate influence in placing the judge on the case by raising funds or directing the judge’s election campaign when the case was pending or imminent.”