cover image Free to Judge: The Power of Campaign Money in Judicial Elections

Free to Judge: The Power of Campaign Money in Judicial Elections

Michael S. Kang and Joanna M. Shepherd. Stanford Univ, $28 (224p) ISBN 978-1-503-62761-1

In this significant study, law professors Kang (coeditor of Race, Reform, and Regulation of the Electoral Process) and Shepherd (The Economics of Industrial Organization) present “the best empirical evidence to date” that judges decide cases in favor of their campaign donors. Drawing on a dataset 10 years in the making, they demonstrate that state judges who face reelection are more likely to rule in favor of their donors than lame-duck state judges who have reached the end of their term limits. The authors also provide historical insight into why judicial elections exist. In the mid-19th century, many states switched from appointments to elections to “protect judges from the influence of legislatures and governors”—a not-insignificant concern, as the authors go on to demonstrate that judges seeking reappointment are more likely to decide cases in the government’s favor. Kang and Shepherd conclude that any “judicial retention” mechanism that forces judges to be concerned about holding onto their job, whether reelection or reappointment, creates bias in their rulings, and recommend having judges serve single long terms as the best way to reduce favoritism. Ingeniously blending data science and legal analysis, this is an innovative and accessible program for justice system reform. (Aug.)