Governing.com has an interesting article on what may shape up to be the most expensive and political campaign year ever -- for seats on state courts. (The article is here.) In the article, Zach Patton notes that, because of court decisions and legislation as well as increased spending by special interests, judges are no longer insulated from politics and openly campaign on issues that may well come before them on the bench. Donors fund judges who agree with them on cultural and social issues (like abortion) and on tort liability issues. And the money is rolling in like crazy. In 2004, the average cost (reported by Justice at Stake and cited in the article) was $640,000; up 45% from 2002. In Illinois in that year, two Supreme Court candidates combined to raise more than $9.3 million. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also a big player, spending $120 million on funding for business-friendly judicial candidates in the last four years.
This obviously creates a controversy with two strong sides. On the one hand, we have folks who appreciate knowing the views of judicial candidates, enabling voters to use more information in their decision making, and promoting the freedom of speech of the candidates. Given what we know about judicial decision making and the role of ideology therein, should judges "pretend" not to be political or should they put it all out there and let folks decide for whom they'd rather vote? On the other hand, folks suggest that this increase in "regular politics" has real consequences for judicial independence and the nation's trust in and regard for the courts. Anyone interested in weighing in?