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Big Money in Judicial Elections

Concerns about the appearance of corruption in American courts have grown more urgent in recent years as spending on judicial races has exploded, writes the author.

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idea_bulbThe U.S. Supreme Court could strike down rules that ban elected judges from personally soliciting potential donors for campaign cash. The Court has struck down campaign finance laws seven times since 2006. These rulings have fundamentally reshaped how political campaigns are waged and have increased the influence of big money in judicial elections. The Court is hearing arguments on the case on January 20, 2015.

One of the personal solicitation rules currently under contention—Florida’s—says that judicial candidates “shall not personally solicit campaign funds, or solicit attorneys for publicly stated support.” In 2009, lawyer Lanell Williams-Yulee ran for a seat on the Hillsborough County, Florida, bench and signed a mass fundraising letter to kick off her campaign. An arbitrator appointed by the Supreme Court of Florida fined her almost $2,000. The state supreme court affirmed the fine and upheld the ban as a means of protecting judicial integrity and the public’s trust in the fairness of judges.

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