Big business is taking over state Supreme Courts

A new report from the Center for American Progress shows how the soaring cost of judicial elections led to state supreme court decisions that favor corporate litigants over individuals seeking to hold them accountable.

In state courts across our country, corporate special interests are donating money to the campaigns of judges who interpret the law in a manner that benefits their contributors rather than citizens seeking justice. Americans are starting to wake up to this danger, according to recent polls, and are worried that individuals without money to contribute may not receive a fair hearing in state courts. In a recent poll
89 percent of respondents said they “believe the influence of campaign contributions on judges’ rulings is a problem.

The report provides illustrations from six states—Alabama, Texas, Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Michigan—of how corporate interest groups that desire a certain outcome have donated money to judges, and the same judges have then interpreted the law in a manner that achieves their corporate donors’ desired outcome.

In Ohio, for example, the insurance industry donated money to judges who then voted to overturn recent cases that the industry disfavored. In other states, such as Texas, the corporate-funded high court has interpreted the law to reach certain results that the state legislature rejected. This judicial policy-making by the Texas court has resulted in case law that favors energy companies funding the judges’ campaigns.

Cynics will not be surprised by the report. Nevertheless, the documentation of case after case of donors’ influence on court cases is shocking. It’s also an enlightening look into how the influence of big-money political contributors has invaded our legal system.