November 8, 2013

The Nov. 6 article “ U.S. Chamber, other business groups set sights on state courts ,” on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s increased impact on state courts, was a great entry into a conversation we need to have on the role of big business in our judiciary. While the chamber and businesses across the country are making their imprint on our courts with litigation, they’re also spreading their influence with campaign contributions to judges.

My organization recently sponsored a study, “Justice at Risk,” to find out how much, exactly, those contributions were affecting the decisions of state supreme courts. The results were disturbingly predictable. The data collected revealed that the more campaign contributions from business interests that justices receive, the more likely they are to side with business litigants. From 2000 to 2009, business groups, lawyers and lobbyists contributed roughly equal amounts to judicial campaigns, but business groups were responsible for more than 90 percent of the television advertising funded by interest groups.

As former justice James Nelson of the Montana Supreme Court said in the study, “We are in the midst of a ‘perfect storm’ of campaign money, favorable judicial rulings to satisfy this money, partisanship and a media attracted to typical politics that is now threatening to destroy judicial independence and impartiality.”

Caroline Fredrickson, Washington

The writer is president of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.