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Idea of the Day: State Supreme Courts Are Heavily Influenced by Corporate Campaign Cash

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America is the only country in the world that elects its judges, and this unique feature of our government has allowed corporations to influence the law through judicial campaign contributions. The ability of ordinary Americans to find justice against powerful corporations may prove to be a historical anomaly rather than an irreversible progression of the law. For much of the 20th century, the courthouse doors were open to injured employees and consumers, but now these doors are being closed once again. Corporate-funded judges and legislators have distorted the law to keep corporations and other defendants from being held accountable. Over the past few decades, big business has spent millions of dollars to elect judges who voted to limit Americans’ right to sue negligent corporations.

Those who have been injured or wronged by the mistakes of someone else—a negligent hospital, an unsafe employer, or a callous insurance company—are finding it harder to hold these wrongdoers accountable in court. Injured plaintiffs are facing laws that have been distorted by campaign contributions from big business to state legislators and judges. To illustrate the impact that this corporate campaign cash is having on the law, the appendix to this report includes summaries of cases from the six state supreme courts that have seen the most money in their judicial elections from 2002 to 2012. The data include 1,499 cases in which an individual sued a health care provider or a business for an injury to their person or property. In 70 percent of these cases, the courts ruled against the individual and in favor of the corporate defendant. The trend toward pro-corporate rulings seems to be growing more pronounced. From 2007 to 2012 the Ohio Supreme Court ruled for defendants in 80 percent of the cases studied. The Texas and Alabama high courts, where big business has had great success in stacking the deck against injured plaintiffs, ruled for the defendants in 80 percent of the cases in 2011 and 2012.

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This is part of a regular column: Idea of the Day

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