The Partisan Price of Justice: An Empirical Analysis of Campaign Contributions and Judicial Decisions

Michael S. Kang & Joanna Shepherd, The Partisan Price of Justice: An Empirical Analysis of Campaign Contributions and Judicial Decisions, 86 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 69 (2011).

Abstract:  Do campaign contributions affect judicial decisions by elected judges in favor of their contributors’ interests? Although the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. relies on this intuition for its logic, it has been until now largely a proposition that has gone empirically untested. No longer. Using a dataset of every state supreme court case in all fifty states over a four-year period, we find that elected judges are more likely to decide in favor of business interests as the amount of campaign contributions that they have received from those interests increases. In other words, every dollar of direct contributions from business groups is associated with an increase in the probability that the judges will vote for business litigants. However, we find surprisingly a statistically significant relationship between campaign contributions and judicial decisions in favor of contributors’ interests only for judges elected in partisan elections, not nonpartisan ones. Our findings suggest an important role of political parties in connecting campaign contributions to judicial decisions under partisan elections. In the flurry of reform activity responding to Caperton, our findings support judicial reforms that propose the replacement of partisan elections with nonpartisan methods of judicial selection and retention.

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